Several grain bins still sit, wrecked and collapsed, a year and a half after a tornado ripped through this town of 1,224.The bins serve as a constant reminder of the destruction visited upon Mapleton on April 9, 2011.
But some Iowa State University students have suggested turning the wrecked Mapleton Grain Co. bins into public art as a lasting commemoration of the town's ongoing recovery and its agricultural heritage.
“It's very creative, very Frank Gehry,” said Julia Badenhope, director of the community visioning program at Iowa State, referring to a prominent U.S. architect known for his contorted designs.
The proposals are among several made by an Iowa State landscape architecture class, co-taught by Badenhope, which is helping Mapleton plan its long-term recovery from the tornado.
Today, the class's 38 students will present the proposals to Mapleton residents in a meeting at the town's community center.
“Sunday is really about people in the town coming and exploring these ideas and giving feedback on them,” Badenhope said.
There are five proposals. The town could select one, combine two or more, or reject them altogether.
Marie Whiteing, coordinator of the Rebuild and Recover Mapleton board and foundation, hopes a year from now to have a comprehensive recovery plan and that the projects will begin in 2014.
“Long-term recovery is anywhere from seven to 10 years,” Whiteing said. “It isn't even two years since the tornado.”
This is the beginning of a process that the city must go through in order to receive state, federal and private grants for its rebuilding, Whiteing said. The tornado drained the town's treasury, and she figures the work being done by the students cuts the town's costs 90 percent compared with hiring a private consultant.
“Without the studies and without the pre-planning, there is no way to get the money,” she said.
Badenhope, an associate professor of landscape architecture, reached out to Mapleton following the tornado. She has dedicated much of her career to helping Iowa communities recover from disasters, a need she saw in the 1993 floods, which occurred shortly after she moved to the state following graduate school.
Said Whiteing: “She just called out of the clear blue one day and said 'I think we can help you.'”
The tornado roared in from the southwest on a Saturday evening, destroying 46 homes and 21 business properties. Almost every building in town was damaged, but — miraculously — no one was killed.
The city estimates about 30 homes and 10 commercial buildings have been built since the tornado.
Today, the southwest area of town, the part most heavily damaged by the twister, is dotted with empty lots, but also with newly built homes put up following the storm.
The students are tasked with re-imagining that area of town. Mapleton residents told the students it had some dilapidated houses, poorly lighted streets and inadequate drainage before the tornado.
“It's very difficult for someone to go through the loss and then think creatively about the future,” Badenhope said. “It relieves residents of the full burden of that.”
The class proposals include turning much of the area into small parks linked by a trail system, with good lighting. The city cannot afford to buy the empty lots but would ask property owners to do something aesthetically pleasing with them — maybe plant a community garden or allow a small playground. That would keep the area attractive and allow for houses to one day be built on the lots again.
“You can't just leave these open spaces ... because they won't get taken care of,” Whiteing said.
The students are also looking at other areas, such as downtown, where the damage was not as severe.
One proposal would put three to four wind turbines on empty lots, which could provide the city-owned utility with more than enough energy to power the town, said student Angie Hettinger, 23. Excess energy could be sold to help pay for post-tornado improvements.
"Mapleton doesn't want to be remembered as the tornado town," said Hettinger, originally of Strawberry Point, Iowa. "So we are presenting these ideas for them to become a model community for Iowa and other towns in the Midwest."
Mapleton tornado recovery meeting
» The meeting is today at the Mapleton Community Center, 511 Main St., from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m.
» The Iowa State University students will give a brief formal presentation of their plans for Mapleton, Iowa. Then there will be a “salon review,” where the proposals will be displayed. Residents can provide feedback on the different schemes.