10/25/10 – 8:15 a.m.
So we’re about to start off our second week working with The Episcopal Church Initiative, and it’s a cloudy Monday morning.
Last week went pretty well. I like the people we’re working with. There’s only one project manager named Matt. Matt’s a young guy with a degree in construction management, and not much building experience, but he’s cool. Matt can’t be around the whole time, but we’ve got two interns named David and Ollie working with us, and they’re constantly making sure we have everything we need, and asking “is there anything that’d make your life easier?” Big improvement on the two weeks with St. Bernard Project. That’s probably not fare, though. I’d heard the Project was going through some transitions while we were there, so that could explain some of the disorganization.
The house we’re working at is the most exciting project we’ve had yet. It’s a historic double shot-gun style house in the 7th ward, near the French Quarter. There’s been a few from our group hanging sheetrock in a house I haven’t even seen yet, but most of us are working here. I like the house we’re working in, but I don’t really like what we’re doing to it. I don’t think anyone does, but it’s what the homeowner wants. Originally, the ceilings were about 12’ high in the whole house, but the homeowner had hired a contractor to drop them all down to 8’. That’s mostly to save on heating and cooling, but I can think of better ways of doing that. The contractor who did that work tried to save money by doing some sketching things like using 2x4 ceiling joists for a 12’ span, and running joists right in front of high windows, so the first job was to replace all the ceiling joists and it went on from there.
Same Day – 3:32 p.m.
I was already to get back to work on the shotgun house, but instead they had us at a new build in the lower 9th Ward. The house that used to be there was destroyed in the flood, and after a few years the family came back and hired contractors to rebuild. When the mother died, the contractors pretty much just abandoned the house after it was framed and sheathed, and that’s how it was when The Episcopal Church Initiative took over. The house is pretty much done, but it needed a new sidewalk and floor insulation. So I spent pretty much all day under a crawl space again.
10/27/10 – 4:22 p.m.
I knew I was going to have a bad day from the moment we pulled up to the new job-site and I realized I’d forgotten socks. When my feet aren’t happy, neither is the rest of me.
Yesterday we finished up plastic and sand under the last house, and poured two sidewalks in front of it. Today we’re at another project. At this one, the 70 year wheelchair-bound woman who owns it spent her life savings to renovate, and the contractors still didn’t finish the job. I spent all day working on siding, while others fixed framing issues inside
This house is in one of the roughest looking neighborhoods I’ve seen yet. I think it’s part of the 7th Ward, but the rest of the 7th Ward that I’ve seen looked pretty decent. At least it’s still in the historic part of the city.
See, here’s the conclusion I’ve come to about New Orleans. I like the old parts of the city, but I don’t really like where it’s gone since then. When New Orleans was an infant of a city, it had a good start. The French and Spanish settlers knew what they were doing. They built on the highest ground, on the Mississippi River bank, and the used lots of stone and other traditional European building techniques that have past the test of millennia. To this day, the French Quarter has withstood for over 200 years, unfazed by everything except rampant tourism. The French Quarter didn’t get an inch of water during the Katrina flood — a lot of people don’t realize that.
Anyway, everything was good for this little city, until some where along the line it lost all control of it’s self and started gaining massive housing developments in the most embarrassing places. In it’s frenzy to expand, it started using lower and lower land, clearing the swamps and building levies and pumps to keep the water out. But hey, it was the industrial revolution and we could do anything. Man over nature, right? So now we have all these neighborhoods that are as much as 7 feet below sea level, and they’re not even nice looking. They’re the same 70s style developments you can find anywhere in the country. St. Bernard Parish where we were working a couple weeks go is like that. Don’t get me wrong, I respect that these places are people’s homes, and I’m honored to help them rebuild… I just think maybe they shouldn’t have ever been built in the first place.
In the city’s hunger for economic growth, it dug shipping channels that turned into flooding channels during Katrina. To make matters worse, the oil companies continue to cut channels through the bayou like they were on a mission from God to destroy the city’s last line of protection against hurricanes.
If you’re like me, and like looking at maps this link  should take you to Google satellite view of one of the houses we worked at in St. Bernard. We were on one side of a grassy embankment, and it wasn’t till I looked at this map that I realized on the other side is a giant bayou. All of St. Bernard Parish and the Lower Ninth Ward are sandwiched between a bayou and the river, and somehow FEMA decided it wasn’t a flood zone. It’s the same story to the North along Lake Pontchartrain. It’s all craziness.
This double shotgun house was my favorite house so far. Having lunch New Orleans stile on the front stoop.
Luckily they do a good job of preserving the original look of the outside of the house.
All these 2x4 ceiling joists had to be replaced with 2x6s. You can kind of see that there’s another 4’ of wasted space above the new lumbar. It really pains me to drop the ceilings at all. If I was in charge of the job, I’d only do it if it were a historic restoration.
The homeowner had hired a contractor to lower the ceiling to 8', so they did, even when the tops of the windows are at 10'. Kris and Jim raised the ceiling in this first room to 10' so it'd be above the windows, and Adam and I raised the next room to 9'. Kris did an awesome job of building this arch between the rooms to add some detail.
This is the other unit in the house, the one we didn't work on. As you can see, this could be any house in the country – nothing like the historic house that the outside promises, but oh well.
Last weekend most of us went play Paintball in Slidell, LA. It was some of the most fun I think any of us have had since we've been here. Later we went bowling. Very good day.
Bri Gerwitz is about to take some names.
Lunch at the house in the Lower 9th Ward.
The crawl space under said house, where several of us spent the better part of two days insulating, hanging plastic, and moving sand.