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Rendering of proposed plans for L'Exode Secondary School Complex.
Jeremy Mefford
Jeremy Mefford, UT graduate engineering student, surveys the Haitian locale with curious local school boys in Fond-des-Blancs, Haiti.

KNOXVILLE—Shortly after the January 12, 2010, earthquake rocked Haiti, a group of students and faculty from the University of Tennessee, Knoxville, collaborated on designing and constructing a secondary school complex in the island nation’s town of Fond-des-Blancs.

The effort, called the Haiti Project, is intended to serve the region of Fond-des-Blancs as an urban migration post for Haitian school children and their families affected by the earthquake, which occurred near Haiti’s capital, Port-au-Prince.

The Haiti Project was born through and continues to work within a design course dedicated to researching, developing and planning for the needs of the school. Led by John McRae, professor and former dean of the UT College of Architecture and Design, the team produced the school’s schematic designs and construction plans.

The 500-student boarding school is slated for completion this fall.

Today marks the two-year anniversary of the earthquake.

L'Exode Rendering
Rendering of proposed plans for L'Exode Secondary School Complex.

The Haiti Project team this year is moving forward with an additional design and construction project in Fond-des-Blancs—the creation of faculty and staff housing.

“Our team seeks to improve and uplift Haitian lives, offering our commitment to education by providing the opportunity for betterment through learning,” McRae said. “Our intention is to work directly with the Haitian community, through a ‘boots on the ground’ approach by providing professional support and guidance while also collaborating with the country’s leaders as they and their Haitian colleagues implement their vision.”

The Haiti Project is composed of students and faculty from many disciplines, including architecture, landscape architecture, interior design, and civil and chemical engineering.

“The Haiti Project has taught me more than the process of architecture and design,” said Forrest Reynolds, a fourth-year architecture student. “Teamwork, leadership, responsibility and humility are qualities that I have taken to heart throughout the journey of the project in Fond-des-Blancs.”

After several trips to Haiti, the team learned that the culture and traditions of the area needed to be vital components of the work, materials, and conceptual design at the site. They wanted to create facilities that both met the needs of the community and could be self-sustained through the region’s technologies, supplies and workforce.

The L’Exode Secondary School, a 30,000-square-foot structure, will be a boarding school for middle and high school children and young adults. It will include classrooms, dorms, a library, cafeteria, auditorium and administrative space.

The faculty and staff housing also could play a role in attracting strong educators to the school. This could help retain students.

Participants of the Haiti Project envision that the school and related facilities can become a model for surrounding communities and spark the spread of secondary schools throughout rural Haiti. They believe there are long-term benefits from this to help the country grow.

“For Haiti, education represents one of the most important opportunities from which the country can gain strength and advance,” McRae said.

This semester, about 25 students are enrolled in the Haiti Project’s studio design class. Students and faculty will go to Haiti February 2 to 6 to assess and continue their work.

“This project is awesome in that it is collaboratively based and challenges the students to understand human activities and a way of life that is different from their own experiences,” said David Matthews, chair of the interior design program who joins the second phase of the Haiti Project. “The Haiti Project reframes what creativity is under different resources and cultural boundaries.”

To learn more about the Haiti Project and to follow its progress, visit

C O N T A C T S:

Lola Alapo (865-974-3993,

Kiki Roeder (865-974-6713,