Re-building an ark: Disaster brings builder, volunteers to shelter’s rescue

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By Sue Marquette Poremba –
When tornadoes ravaged the Southeast in the spring of 2011, it wasn’t only homes that were lost. Shelters and barns for thousands of animals also were destroyed and needed to be part of the rebuilding process.

Build an Ark Rescue dedication

Closing ceremony for the New York Says Thank You Build an Ark Animal Shelter project in Elijay, Ga., on July 31, 2011. Photo by Linda McElwaney.

One of the structures destroyed was an animal rescue shelter called Build An Ark Rescue near Ellijay, Ga.

“There were actually four people in the building and it was full of animals when it was flattened,” says Ed Lanham of Jordan Building Construction. “Nobody was seriously hurt, except some animals had some scratches.”

A volunteer organization, New York Says Thank You Foundation, heard about the Build An Ark Rescue disaster. Every year, New York Says Thank You picks a building project as a way of paying back the kindness shown to the city after the September 11 tragedy. They were looking for a project to commemorate the 10th anniversary of the terror attacks, and chose to rebuild the barn that shelters rescue animals.

Build an Ark Animal Shelter, Elijay, Ga.

The barn houses 60 rescue animals cared for by Susan Littlejohn of Build An Ark Animal Rescue. The animals, which include horses, donkeys, alpacas, sheep, goats, pigs, ducks and birds, are used as therapeutic companions for disabled children, senior citizens and juvenile offenders.

“New Yorkers will never forget what people from Georgia and small towns all across the United States did for us in the days, weeks, and months following 9/11,” Jeff Parness, founder of New York Says Thank You, said in a release. “Helping to rebuild Susan’s barn and strengthening the community of Ellijay is our way of honoring that incredible spirit of kindness and volunteerism that united our nation.”

Lanham was contacted as the contractor because he is a Lester Buildings dealer for the state of Georgia. “New York Says Thank You has worked with Lester Buildings on other projects and they’ve developed a great relationship,” says Lanham.

The new barn is approximately 10,000 square feet, a post-frame building with a metal roof and sides. The 22 animal stalls were a tongue-and-groove construction in Southern Yellow Pine with sliding rail doors. In addition to animal stalls, the barn houses an apartment for Littlejohn, a mechanical room and office.

The structure is designed to house a wide variety of animals, so the stalls have some unique features in order to accommodate animals of different sizes and with different needs. The stalls were built to house large animals; however, dividers can be put into the stalls to double or even quadruple the occupancy to provide for smaller animals. One of the stalls has netting around it, and this is the home for the birds.

Lanham didn’t install feeders in the stalls because of the different animals. Each stall does have its own light and a receptacle so a fan can be added if needed.

One important feature to the facility is its sophisticated natural ventilation system, which doesn’t need power to operate. “We use the latest in efficiency for the apartment and office, too,” Lanham adds. “In addition to having a high quality Lester building, this is an energy efficient building.”

Lanham was responsible for all the preliminary work to prepare the site for the building. He poured all of the concrete and he and his crew began to lay out the building, like putting up the columns and trusses. “We wanted to get as much done as possible before the big volunteer weekend,” he explains.

The core of the volunteer effort was 25 firefighters from New York City, many of whom survived the September 11 attacks. But volunteers came from all over the country, many who participated in a previous building project that benefited their community — people who survived Hurricane Katrina in Louisiana, Californians who rebuilt after wildfires, and tornado survivors from all over the Midwest. On the official volunteer weekend, Lanham estimates more than 600 people showed up to help rebuild the barn, a good old-fashioned barn raising.

“Not all of the volunteers worked on the barn,” Lanham says. “We had so many people that were able to build an amphitheater on site. The tornado ripped all the trees from the side of a hill and left an area that was perfect for an amphitheater.” The group used reclaimed wood from the site for the seating and a covered deck for performers. “We also built an educational pavilion and two run-in shelters for the animals to get them out of the sun.”

A normal crew consists of a handful of workers, but on the volunteer weekend, Lanham found himself responsible for supervising hundreds of people. “We were lucky that many of the volunteers had construction experience and knew enough that they could carry on with instructions and little supervision,” he says. “And there were people there who had never been around construction, but as long as they were with someone with experience, they performed well.

“One of the things that really impressed me was that we had just about as many women as men. Many of these people came from New York where they work in high rises every day.”

The volunteers left their own unique mark on the structure. “On the weekend we had volunteer help, there were children who did artwork with Bible verses that were put on the front of each stall,” Lanham says. Another Bible verse is etched into the concrete at the entrance to the building, which Lanham says was one of the most moving experiences of the entire project.

In late June, Lanham’s crew was pouring the cement slab and it was a typical Georgia summer — hot and humid. “We were just about ready to finish pouring the concrete when Susan came walking down the drive with a large Bible in her hand. I asked her what she was doing; was she going to read us some Bible stories? She said no, she wanted to put it into the slab, like you would a cornerstone. She then turned it to a specific chapter and verse from Genesis, and we poured the concrete over it. Later, she came back and wrote the verse into the concrete.”

When the volunteers flocked to Ellijay, they built a signpost similar to the one in the TV show M*A*S*H, listing their hometowns. “We had so many signs we couldn’t put them all up,” Lanham says.

And if at all possible, when New York Says Thank You does their next project in 2012, Lanham believes the town of Ellijay, Ga., will be included on that sign post. RB

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