Architecture students build facility for local church

A group of USF architecture students are trying to make a difference in the community by applying what they have learned in the classroom to create a much needed multi-purpose building and pantry for a local church.

During the fall 2008 semester, the students began a Design/Build community project for the Noah Nothing Caring & Teaching Center at the Kingdom of God church in East Tampa, under the direction of Stanley Russell, assistant professor of architecture.

“Before we began this project, the church was using a termite-ridden shack from the 1920s as a pantry and place to help people in need,” said Paul Martinez, an architecture grad student. “Their biggest problem was they were limited in space.”

Design/Build is a program within the USF School of Architecture in which students gain experience in conceptualizing and constructing a building on their own, said Chris Podes, a senior architecture major working on the project.

“We do the work ourselves, so we are able to fully understand how a building is put together from start to finish,” he said.

Russell said Director of Noah Nothing Caring & Teaching Center Gloria Harmon approached him and asked for his help in designing and building a pantry and center for the church.

With a concept to use recycled materials in a “big way” for the project, the students used three 8-by-40-foot recycled shipping containers to create the facility, Russell said. The completed building will have storage space for canned goods, an office, a conference room, a lobby area, a computer room, a kitchen, an open multi-purpose area and restrooms.

“By creating this (building) it allows the church to offer more to the people who need help,” Martinez said. “It offers a safe haven for people on the street and will help keep them out of trouble.”

Podes said the project has already had a positive impact on the community.

“Just us being out there working every day has created a bond with the community,” he said.

The students were separated into two groups before they began building the facility in the spring semester.

One group worked at the site that would house the new building, digging trenches, pouring concrete and preparing the site for the placement of the shipping containers.

The other group worked to prepare the shipping containers for delivery to the church site, including cutting spaces for windows, doors and skylights.

While the students did most of the labor and design for the project, Russell said numerous local businesses also donated materials, labor and time.

Donations of concrete, slabs and gravel from the Florida Rock Industries helped alleviate the project’s tight budget, Podes said.

The students purchased the recycled containers from A AAmerican Containers, a local business that sells shipping containers, Russell said. The company also provided a work area for the project and employees to assist the students.

“For the most part none of us (students) had any construction experience — it was all new,” Podes said. “It helped that A AAmerican had experience and knowledge of the material. They were very accommodating during the process.”

Russell said the students have finished approximately half of the project and the building could be complete by spring 2010.