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Hope Proctor: Architecture Isn’t Just About Buildings

It's hard enough to oversee ongoing construction in person. Imagine doing it from more than 1,500 miles away. That is what Hope Proctor is involved in right now. Hope, an architect, has volunteered her own time to design the new library in Deschapelles, Haiti, as part of the sister city relationship between the Haitian community and the town of Essex.

The relationship grew from the longtime involvement in Haiti of another Essex resident, Jenifer Grant, whose late mother and step-father founded Hôpital Albert Schweitzer in Deschapelles in 1956. In addition to the library, Sister Cities Essex Haiti (SCEH), founded in 2010, has sponsored music and sports programs in Deschapelles as well as a training program for teachers of young children.

On Friday, May 10, the Essex Library will host a screening of Welcome to Deschapelles, Our Sister City, a film by SCEH board member Brenda Floyd and her son Logan to show what life is like in Deschapelles, a community where poverty is a way of life, where women carry fresh water home from a communal spigot in cans balanced on their heads, and electricity comes, if at all, in intermittent spurts from local generators.

The library in Deschapelles will use many of the techniques employed in constructing environmentally conscious, sustainable buildings in other countries, but, as Hope points out, in this case, there was no choice.

"It's a sustainable design by necessity," she says.

The building will be powered by solar panels incorporated into the design (with a back-up generator for emergency) and it will have windows to promote cross ventilation, but not fans that would use more electricity; heat will disperse not only through cross-ventilation but also through a high cupola to draw warm air upwards. The library will also have its own well to provide water.

A good well, Hope points out, is a particular necessity in light of the epidemic of cholera that has resulted from contaminated water in Haiti. (The source of the contamination, according to many reports, was sewage from a camp set up for Nepalese soldiers sent to Haiti as peacekeepers by the United Nations in response to the devastating 2010 earthquake.)

Given Deschapelles's location between two known earthquake fault lines, the building will incorporate construction techniques to minimize seismic shock; it will also be constructed to withstand hurricane-force winds. In fact, the whole structure is being built to comply with the standards of the International Building Code, though regulations in Haiti, according to Hope are both less strict and often not enforced.

"I didn't want this to be something like a sketch on a napkin," Hope explains. "I wanted to take time to do it right."

The cost of the project is estimated at $150,000, of which half has already been raised.

Construction has now started on perimeter walls surrounding the library and on the footings for the building itself. Hope gets weekly reports from an onsite construction engineer as well as pictures of what is going on. She shares the information with Dan Morrissey, a structural engineer from Deep River, who has also volunteered his time for the project. Recently, they could tell from the pictures they were sent that there was a problem with some of the steel reinforcing bars and they were able to communicate with the Haitian construction crew to correct the problem.

Dan and his wife Miriam have already seen the film on Deschapelles and as Miriam watched it, she realized her own grandfather, a doctor, had worked for a time in Haiti at Hôpital Albert Schweitzer.

"Isn't that a remarkable coincidence? Things have come full circle," Hope says.

Hope, who grew up in Painesville, Ohio, outside Cleveland, says she already knew in 5th grade that she wanted to be an architect.

"There was a kid in my class whose father was an architect," she recalls, a field she found particularly appealing since she loved to draw pictures of houses (her own father was a doctor).

Since 2005, she has been a project architect at Charney Architects in New Haven, where her work has ranged from single-family homes to renovation projects at Yale. Previously, she worked in Essex for George Penniman Architects.

The opportunity to work on the library project came just as Hope had decided to use her architectural skills in an even wider way, becoming a member of Architecture for Humanity, a volunteer, non-profit organization dedicated to bringing design services to communities in need throughout the world.

Still, her life is not her work; she has three children ranging in age from 5 to 11, and her professional obligations are balanced with her family responsibilities. On a recent evening she worked in New Haven until 7:30 at night, but when the boss suggested the whole design team go out to dinner, Hope begged off.

"I knew if I left then, I could get home before the kids went to bed; it's all about priorities," she says.

The work on the library design was often done in the evening and on weekends. Hope credits her husband Brian, who has his own construction business in Essex, Proctor Woodworks, with enabling her to find time for the project in her schedule.

"I had a lot of help from him," she says.

Locally, Hope has also been involved with the Town of Essex, serving on the Zoning Board for seven years and also on the design review subcommittee.

Hope and Brian, who also trained as an architect, came east from Ohio, originally planning to move to Boston, but "it was too expensive," she says.

Now, she is delighted they made the choice to live in Essex.

"It's a small community with so many talented people," she says.

Hope envisions a completed library in Deschapelles that is more than a building with books-there will be well-lit spaces for students to study. Now, since few homes have electricity, school children often have to read at night under streetlights. In the library, there will also be computers and meeting rooms for townspeople of all ages. When the structure is finished, Hope sees a building that will function as a catalyst to foster in Deschapelles the sense of community that she finds so much a part of life in Essex.

See Welcome to Deschapelles, Our Sister City, at the Essex Library on Friday, May 10, at 7 p.m. The program is free; for more information call the library at 860-767-1560.


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