Greensburg Eight hours and 320 miles separate the students in Kansas University's Studio 804 from the warehouse where they built a new arts center for this tornado-ravaged community.
After hours of driving wind and pounding rain, the students' yearlong project has arrived in its new home. Each year, students in Studio 804 build a structure - typically a house - but this year they designed and built the 547 Art Center.
Stacy Barnes, a former Lawrence resident and Lawrence Arts Center employee, came home to Greensburg after the tornado and will be its first director.
"To be part of my town's rebuilding, I couldn't imagine not being here," Barnes said. "After living in Lawrence, it's interesting that a Lawrence group is the one building us this arts center."
KU professor Dan Rockhill, the instructor for Studio 804, said moving this building from Lawrence to Greensburg was the longest trek he's ever had to take a building on. It was made longer both in time and distance because the building's seven oversized loads needed the open spaces of remote rural highways.
Still, even with those precautions, the trek wasn't without incident. Rockhill said, however, that the problems were minor.
"I'm delighted everything seems to be intact," he said. "We have a couple of loose pieces, but considering the thousands of pieces we used" that's not bad.
A car of three students followed the trucks from Lawrence to Greensburg, stopping at least twice to reseal parts of the building modules from the weather. At one point, north of Ottawa, Tim Overstreet climbed on top of one of the buildings and nailed down the weather-proof membrane, while being pounded by constant rain.
At another point, west of Council Grove, the students had to resecure some of the temporary siding on the building.
"The weather has been the main obstacle," said Simon Mance, an 804 student who arrived in Greensburg before the convoy finally pulled into town. "A lot of us are really tired, but we can't be tired. We're really excited to be here even if we are tired."
The students plan to have the building complete in time for an unveiling on May 4, one year to the day after the tornado tore the town apart. Between now and then, they will live in dorms at Pratt County Community College and commute 30 minutes to Greensburg every day to work on the building.
"This is just one more sign of progress," Barnes said. "It's just one more sign we're rebuilding."
Barnes said the plan is to take over from the student architects in May and be ready to offer the first classes this summer. Eventually the center will include exhibits, performances and classes.
"We're going to start small and do a few things, but do them well," she said.
That seems to be the theme in Greensburg these days. Though the area surrounding the new art center remains mostly barren, aside from the nearby Big Well - billed as the world's largest hand-dug well, there are signs of rebirth.