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12/8/11 - Students make rebuilding presentations to Smithville officials

The same day the town of Smithville joined together to light 16 Christmas trees honoring those who died in April's deadly tornado, a few residents visited the Mississippi State campus to collect ideas about the town's future.

One of the most powerful tornadoes on record in the United States, the twister whirled away the town's residents, buildings, automobiles, pets, and countless other important fixtures in the north Monroe County community.

But no force from Mother Nature--not even a powerful EF5 category tornado--can erase the sense of community and pride from the 800 townspeople who survived.

On Dec. 2, 27 architecture majors at Mississippi State provided some more help with the recovery. They had spent the fall semester developing community planning and design strategies for rebuilding.

The partnership between MSU's Carl Small Town Center and Smithville culminated with student teams unveiling 11 different projects for a new municipal complex. The project ideas were unveiled during a daylong campus program at Giles Hall, home of the College of Architecture, Art and Design and its School of Architecture. [For more on the center, visit http://carlsmalltowncenter.org/.]

Caitlin Wong, a senior from Birmingham, Ala., and two other classmates collectively created a project that could help Smithville incorporate more environmentally friendly and sustainable buildings, and strategically locate them in the best positions for the town.

The storm's aftermath that Wong witnessed during visits to the area had a personal connection for her. A close friend of Wong's from Tuscaloosa lost his home from another massive tornado that struck the same spring day as the one in Northeast Mississippi.

Unlike other class projects, Wong said she felt a strong connection, almost an overwhelming draw, to this assignment that could help residents write the next chapter in their town's history.

"They have lots of hope there," Wong observed.

While they know the community will never be the same as it was before the tornado struck, many residents have used the phrase "a modern Mayberry" when describing their town's ideal future.

As members of a municipal infrastructure committee listened to student design projects, they could see pieces of what they want to become reality. While progress is moving slower than they'd like, community leaders said they plan to incorporate parts of these projects in the upcoming comprehensive plan and in rebuilding of public facilities.

Michelle Bond, a fifth generation Smithville resident and disaster recovery manager for the town, said seeing the students' varied ideas help her and others consider possibilities.

"They certainly broaden your mind," Bond added.

Some of those ideas include paying more attention to sidewalks and bike paths, along with drawing a closer connection between the community and the Tennessee-Tombigbee Waterway that flows along the town's west side.

John Poros, Carl Small Town Center director, said the collaboration epitomized the mission of the university center. While rooted in an unfortunate disaster, he said it also offers a chance for the community to rediscover resources it has.

"We see in this an opportunity for a small town to rethink who they are in the 21st century," Poros said. "It can allow them to enhance and re-think their identity."

So, as residents continue to wish that the rebuilding process were moving faster, they now have more of an idea of what the future may hold.

Robbie S. Ward | University Relations

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