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Rebuilding homes, restoring faith

Rebuilding homes, restoring faith

Fred Bowie, left, talks with School of Architecture Lecturer Brent Brown and other remodeling team members outside Bowie’s renovated home. The Congo Street Green Initiative is revitalizing this Dallas neighborhood.

Frankie Boulden's south Dallas community has new life, thanks to the bcWORKSHOP's Congo Street Green Initiative.

"It was scary and exciting and unbelievable all at the same time," Boulden says of the project that has given back Congo Street to its residents.

The bcWORKSHOP's goal to rebuild the neighborhood is the brainchild of architect Brent Brown, a lecturer in UT Arlington's School of Architecture. The idea originated in a design studio class he teaches.

"My interest was in changing practice. In the future, they decide how they want to practice," says Brown, who has employed some of his UT Arlington students and graduates. "I wanted students becoming engaged and learning through that engagement."

“LIFE IS COMING BACK. YOU SEE PEOPLE OUT WALKING, KIDS PLAYING. IT’S A REBIRTH OF THE COMMUNITY.”

Initially students could get six hours of summer credit for working on houses. Now, Brown has the students get their jobs through AmeriCorps so they can be compensated.

When you look at Congo Street, it's obvious time has forgotten the rough-hewn collection of 17 single-family homes and duplexes, all built before 1910. A lone drain in the middle of the 18-foot-wide street serves as a reminder of the flooding that follows heavy rain. The homes are in disrepair.

But the residents of the neighborhood, called Jubilee Park, didn't want to move. This was their neighborhood. These were their homes.

The idea is simple, Brown says.

Build a holding house-a guest house of sorts. Move a home's residents there while bcWORKSHOP fixes up their place. The concept allows residents' housing needs to be addressed with no disruption to daily routines. Fred Bowie, who lives on the street, donated a lot for the holding house.

Benje Feehan

Architecture graduate Benje Feehan works on the interior of a Congo Street home. “Everything we do is focused on making this a sustainable project,” he says.

Benje Feehan, a New Zealand native and UT Arlington architecture graduate, says Bowie's donation emphasizes the trust from the community.

"It just makes it so much easier and significant when the community becomes a part of the project," he says. "The first house we did, 4537 Congo, is LEED Gold certified. Everything we do is focused on making this a sustainable project."

LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) is a rating system developed by the U.S. Green Building Council that provides standards for environmentally sustainable construction.

Initially the bcWORKSHOP committed to redoing five homes. Some were renovated; some practically had to be rebuilt. Lumber from those homes was either recycled or reused in the refurbished homes. The street's infrastructure also will be addressed as part of the larger project.

"We will work with the residents to design the new street, and we have had the engineering piece donated," Feehan says. "The city has committed to funding the construction of the newly improved street."

Boulden says it's another sign that Congo Street's future is bright.

"Life is coming back. You see people out walking, kids playing. It's a rebirth of the community."

- Herb Booth