Three-years ago, on April 27, 2014, The town of Vilonia, Arkansas was wiped out by an EF-4- tornado.
The town of four-thousand, just north of Little Rock, was flattened.
It was the second time in six-years a twister ripped through the small community.
In a special report, we find out how Vilonia continues to rebuild and recover with help from the University of Arkansas.
“We all came out of our shelters, our safe places to find friends and family, injured, dead, the town completely destroyed,” Vilonia Emergency Management Director K.C. Williams said.
A tornado like the one that hit the small town of Vilonia in 2014, can flat line a city and halt economic progress for years.
“Or it’s an opportunity for a community to rebuild…” Williams said, “So for Vilonia, we chose to come back better and stronger.”
But the small town has a limited budget, which is why a group of students at the U of A were asked to help.
Professor Stephen Luoni of Architecture & Urban Studies at the U of A said, “We were contracted to provide a plan for a town center which means reconfiguring the way the town grows and develops.”
Luoni said it’s rare for a town of Vilonia’s size to not only rebuild, but redesign after a disaster.
“[We’re] providing downtown neighborhoods, parks, condos, apartments, mixed use development. Pretty much the DNA of Fayetteville’s town center.” Luoni said.
Justin Tucker is a former student who helped developed the Vilonia Master Plans, he said the assignment was a great opportunity for young designers, because it takes so many years to come to fruition.
Tucker now works at the University as a fabrication specialist, sharing what he learned with other students.
“When you can set things in motion and the people in that community can take it and do something great with it,” Tucker said.
According to the City of Vilonia, they didn’t really have a master plan before, so the tornado gave them a clean slate to finally come up with one.
Williams said Vilonia previous plan was lacking a vision for the future.
The most unique aspect of the students’ redesigned 2030 master plan is the idea of a distributed safe room — rather than a centralized one that the town has always had.
The new plan would distribute saferooms all over town in public areas, so that a resident or a visitor is no more than a five minute walk from a safe room.
It’s an idea that could save lives, because there have been issues in the past with people driving to safe rooms during storms, putting themselves in additional danger.
Williams said he thinks spread out saferooms will provide a sense of security for the towns people.
“I think it also brings people into the town, knowing that we do have a plan to help keep them safe.”
The town is still in the rebuilding stage, but plans are in place to secure Vilonia’s future until 2030.
Vilonia has acquired the land and rezoned the area that the newly developed town center will go.
Now the city is just waiting on more businesses to come to the area to start to make it a reality.
Luoni said most of the national retail chains have pulled out of places like Vilonia , because it’s perceived as unsafe. So he thinks that having the distributed safe rooms that will allow a greater perception of safety that will allow commerce to come back to Vilonia.
It’s appropriate to quote Bob Dylan for Vilonia, “Behind every beautiful thing, there’s been some kind of pain.”
“We’re Arkansans so we roll up our sleeves and get to work and rebuild and keep on going,” Williams said.