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William Snyder

William Snyder

Class of 1967

Local Help for Haiti
Architect to build school in ravaged town

William Snyder was emotionally unhinged after seeing the devastation of Haiti's 7.0 magnitude earthquake.

The epicenter struck the seaside town of Léogâne, 16 miles west of the Haitian capital, Port-au-Prince, on Jan. 12, 2010. The aftermath transformed the small Caribbean town into a cauldron of chaos with 85 percent of its buildings left in rubble and ruin, a United Nations assessment report shows. An estimated 20,000 to 30,000 people died in Léogâne, which is the country's "worst affected area," the report said. Rebuilding and renewal efforts have been slow due to failed infrastructure, corruption and siphoned financial aid.

As the namesake principal behind Tate Snyder Kimsey, a 51-year-old Henderson-based architecture practice, Snyder felt compelled to help. He's drawing upon three decades of design and development experience to rebuild a Léogâne elementary school. Schools play a crucial cultural and community role in Léogâne, where some students walk barefoot four hours a day to attend to class. Léogâne schools, like most of the town, were destroyed by the earthquake.

"You donate money and aid, but the images pull at you," said Snyder, who had a Las Vegas elementary school named after him in 2001. "I had to go and help."

Snyder volunteered to participate in a postearthquake structural assessment headed by Avon, Colo.-based Schools for Children of the World, with oversight from the Spanish Red Cross. His first Haiti trip was in August. He said the experience was unforgettable; he saw thousands of villagers who were left living in dirt-floor tents and lean-tos.

"It was nearly nine months later but nothing had really changed," Snyder said. "The buildings are ready to come down. It equates to shoddy workmanship due to a lack of knowledge. Concrete walls have no reinforcement or lateral stability."

Snyder said Haitian medium-duty buildings and residences often have concrete columns at the corners with concrete blocks in between. There is little reinforcement and virtually no mortar between joints, he said; blocks are often loosely stacked atop one another and finished with a smoothed concrete exterior. Haiti has no building codes, inspectors or plan check departments unlike the United States.

"When you start shaking concrete, and the corners aren't tied together with steel, it becomes very brittle," Snyder said. "Buildings wiggled until they disintegrated and collapsed into a million pieces."

Haiti lacks steel manufacturing and fabricating plants, and long ago depleted its forest for fuel. Most of the country's concrete is either homemade or from the neighboring Dominican Republic. Many locals buy cement piecemeal from sidewalk vendors, acquiring sand and mix separately and diluting the mix to create greater quantities.

Haitians often slowly build their stores, businesses or homes as money permits, resulting patchwork construction and partially built structures. Cement is so expensive that Haitians will try to make as many blocks as possible. More than 60 percent of Haitians were employed before the earthquake.

"Now, there are international contractors teaching locals about putting supporting rebar in columns," said Snyder, who will return to Haiti in March. "They're learning about different quality sand for creating cement. Cheap sand comes from the river and it's not much different mud. Good sand is one-third more expensive, but it's needed for a good mix."

Snyder is building a seven-classroom, 10,000-square-foot elementary school in Léogâne. The single-story building is being constructed with durable yet affordable materials such as reinforced concrete block. The school will initially lack power due to a lack of available utilities.

The design uses sunlight for illumination and passive ventilation for cooling. There is a rainwater collection system for nonpotable purposes.

Snyder said he hopes the sustainable scheme will become a template for rebuilding other vital facilities. Construction of the school is expected to finish by year's end.

"I was amazed at how upbeat and resilient the Haitian people are," Snyder said. "They have nothing, but they are still friendly and inviting. It's inspiring."

Contact reporter Tony Illia at 702-303-5699 or tonyillia@aol.com


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