By Debby Woodin
JOPLIN, Mo. —
Workers clad in white and blue hard hats and blue shirts scurry around like a colony of ants entering and leaving a nest in Joplin’s tornado zone just east of Cunningham Park.
Those hats and shirts are the uniform of an army, an army whose weapons are hammers and nails.
Commanding part of those soldiers is Charlie Kuehn, a Joplin contractor who has been building houses and commercial buildings for more than 30 years. He’s twice been voted Builder of the Year by the Home Builders Association of Southwest Missouri, whose members are working along with Springfield-area builders on the project.
He’s in charge of the Joplin builders involved in a seven-house project for the TV reality show “Extreme Makeover: Home Edition.” The show on Wednesday started a seven-day build for Joplin families who lost their homes in the May 22 tornado, and to help restore Cunningham Park.
Work on the build is handled with two 12-hour shifts a day. Kuehn is leading the night-shift work, which starts at 8 p.m. When he arrived Thursday night, the exteriors of the houses were being completed, just since Wednesday.
“I’m pretty proud of all these workers,” he said Friday of the builders and skilled tradesmen and volunteers donating their time to help. “I’m more proud than I am amazed” of the way the project has come together.
Kuehn is a partner in Four State Homes. He’s no stranger to the science of timing all the different parts of construction to come together.
He said Thursday night that the project is on schedule in rapid-fire mode.
Asked if the show has the work down to a science since nearly 200 episodes have been completed, Kuehn said, “I’d say they’ve got it down to a science, but the science only works if you’ve got the volunteers,” and most of the professional crews are donating their time as well as the volunteers.
By early Friday morning, when Kuehn’s corps was finishing its shift, the windows were in, insulation had been installed and the exterior of the houses was rapidly being finished.
In the daylight, the shapes are becoming recognizable styles. The family of Kyle Howard, a Joplin firefighter, appear to have a rustic multi-story home in the making; while the Tom Walters family will come home to a craftsman style. Justin and Kari Nevins will find theirs an eco-influenced contemporary, while the Crystal Whitely family nests in a white bungalow.
The exterior of the house for the Crystal Cogdill family is receiving an application of gray board-and-batten siding with a garden window on the side.
Thang Nguyen’s family will have a big front porch to welcome the members, and the Scott Gonzalez family will have a bungalow familiar to Joplin with its large windows and craftsman-inspired details.
It looks like the houses will be ready by Sunday night or Monday morning to turn over for furnishing and decorating, Kuehn said. The show devotes 4 1/2 days to the construction phase.
The whole project, including restoration work at Cunningham Park, has to be complete by Wednesday, when a live, on-air “reveal” will be broadcast for the Howards on ABC television. The others will be reserved for a two-hour special, celebrating the show’s 200th episode, to be aired later.
A Trunk-or-Treat event is slated from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. today at Landreth Park for people who were affected by the May 22 tornado.
It is being put on by the “Friends Helping Friends” organization affiliated with Schreiber Foods in conjunction with the city of Joplin, the Rebuild Joplin organization and the Points of Distribution Sites (PODS). Activities will include music, games, food and prizes.
Tornado survivors who have been displaced will receive a “home kit” of household items and pantry foods.
Those who participate are asked to bring some proof of identification that they resided in the disaster area.