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Katrina Village project garnering nationwide attention

You’ve heard of the Katrina Cottage, but what about the Katrina Village development underway in Ocean Springs? If you haven’t heard about it, then you must have missed the story on ABC News — or one of the many other stories by the national media. Reporters from Better Homes & Gardens, Cottage Living, USA Weekly, Architectural Digest and National Geographic have all found this concept intriguing enough to do stories on it.

The Katrina Cottage is a small, well-built and attractive alternative to FEMA trailers for emergency housing. The concept was developed at the Mississippi Renewal Forum by architects with the New Urbanist Guild. The Katrina Village will be located on 1.5 acres of land off Government Street, and will include both small Katrina Cottages and larger Katrina Houses.

“This will be a living village that will be a showcase for different types of construction,” said Mike LeBatard, AIA, NCARB, principal with Tolar LeBatard Denmark Architects, PLLC, Ocean Springs. “ There will be people living there in about 24 units that will be a mixture of single-family and live/work units that would allow for a home office. We will also have small office spaces. A bank is interested in being located there, as well.”

The village will demonstrate stick built, panelized, and systems-built structures. There are plans for a handicapped unit, showing how ramp systems would work.

The development in what has become known as the Railroad District, located within a 15-minute walk from downtown, will include green space, sidewalks, outdoor lighting, lawns and white wooden picket fences.

“What we are trying to do by developing this site is show FEMA what can be done through private industry,” LeBatard said. “We are also highlighting this village of different sizes and styles of the Katrina Cottage and the Katrina House to make the public aware of the quality of architecture of the Katrina Cottage. We would love to be able to have a FEMA trailer on site to be able to let people see the difference between the two.”

The Katrina Cottage Group is made up of a number of local architects as well as several other architects involved in the post Katrina charrette that was part of the Mississippi Renewal Forum. The group includes Michael Barranco of Jackson, an architect who was one of the organizers of the charrette; Maryann Cusato, a New York architect who designed the Katrina Cottage currently on display in downtown Ocean Springs; and Steve Mouzon, a Florida architect.

“What we are trying to do is showcase forms of architecture seen through the eyes of different architects who understand the need for this type of housing for replacement homes and emergency housing,” LeBatard said. “We are breaking ground now, and the first thing we will do is move the original Katrina Cottage into the village.”

That cottage has already been around, having been displayed at a home builders’ convention in Florida. It has been on display in downtown Ocean Springs for several months, drawing many visitors — particularly people tired of living in their FEMA trailers.

The original Katrina Cottage is 308 square feet. The cottages and houses in the Katrina Village will range from 308 to 1,200 square feet, and possibly even larger.

“Originally the Katrina Cottage idea was for emergency housing in the area,” LeBatard said. “Since then we are now realizing there is a great need for permanent homes, so have moved forward from the Katrina Cottage to the Katrina House. We are still pushing the idea of Katrina Cottages manufactured and brought in to replace the FEMA metal box trailer with these more sustainable and humane type of structures for people in disaster areas.”

As with any idea whose time has come, there have been a number of imitators to the concept. But the Katrina Cottage and Katrina House have been trademarked. Homes must go through a certification program from the New Urbanist Guild to be considered a Katrina Cottage or Katrina House. “We have a lot of imitators coming out,” LeBatard said. “It is eliminating the knockoffs and giving the real thing. It has to go through inspections to be certified.

“We are trying to hedge off the bad construction. Our construction is rated to withstand winds of 145 to 175 miles per hour. These homes have 2 x 6 walls, and hardy plank on the outside to be maintenance free as much as possible.”

Interest in the Katrina Cottage on the Coast has been strong. LeBatard said people have been “just knocking our doors down” with the original Katrina Cottage, most wanting them in lieu of FEMA trailers. Most prospective buyers want to live in the cottage until their main home is rebuilt, which could be years for some people. Once the larger home is constructed, the cottage would be used as a guest house, office or library. The homes are being built out of conventional materials, but don’t use pressed wood products.

Special engineering is needed to design an HVAC system for the cottages.

“The smallest air conditioning system available puts out more air than we need in the building, which could lead to problems,” LeBatard said. “We are re-engineering the system to get the proper balance of air. Also, we are firm believers in designing to sites, instead of designing around the site. We are saving trees on the site instead of coming in and cutting everything down. These homes are small enough to fit into a natural environment.”

The homes are raised off the ground instead of being on a concrete slab. That allows the ground beneath it to be a permeable surface that allows rainwater to soak in instead of a non permeable surface. “That works really well next to our wetlands area, and helps prevent excessive stormwater runoff,” LeBatard said. “We have a small strip of wetlands at the Katrina Village that will be featured to show how these structures can be integrated to be friendly to wetlands instead of destroying them.”

The Katrina Village could end up one day being a stop for tour buses that visit Ocean Springs attractions such as the Walter Anderson Museum of Art.

“This will be the first village of this concept built anywhere in the U.S.,” LeBatard said. “We think it will be a very important milestone for the Coast. The people of the Coast have heard so much talk about planning and what could happen, and have yet to see anything come to pass. We are hoping that this will give the people a sense that something is really happening. We want to be known as the architects that quit talking, put up their money and got something done.”

At press time, Congress was considering an appropriations bill that would provide $1 billion in funding to build 40,000 Katrina cottages, said Jenny Reeves, spokesperson for U.S. Sen. Thad Cochran (R-Miss.). Reeves said a number of other significant Katrina recovery funding items important to Mississippi were also being considered.

Contact MBJ contributing writer Becky Gillette at bgillette@bellsouth.net.

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