Newark students turn shipping container into emergency shelter

The lime-colored shipping container sitting in the parking lot at Newark's Central High School doesn't look like much until its metal doors are swung open.

Inside is everything a family of four would need for temporary housing should they be displaced by a natural disaster.

There's a tiny kitchen nook with stackable chairs; a fold-down dining table on the wall; a compact sink with running water; a working stovetop, with a refrigerator underneath; a portable toilet that sits inside the shower, and a sleeper sofa in the den.

It only takes a few giant steps to tour this creatively designed space.

This tiny survival venue is just 20 feet long and 8 feet high and wide, but the essentials to live are smartly placed, all powered by solar panels on the roof.

Its electrical energy is stored in batteries.

What more could you ask for from Help in a Hurry, a disaster relief housing container aimed at getting a family back on its feet.

It was created by two Central High School students and two alumni who can see engineering and architecture careers in their futures.

Can I get a round of applause for Central seniors Saleem Bush and Joseph Marshall, and alumni Fedrick Jean-Jacques and Ishmael Jalloh, now attending Essex County College.

"We had to think big and small at the same time," said Bush, 18.

A big assist is what they needed to get the project going. Joseph Jingoli & Son Inc., a contractor-construction manager in Lawrence, met Central High School officials two years ago when they both had similar interests.

As part of Jingoli & Son's outreach division, which helps people in the community access trades, the company was looking to start its Live Class program to teach young people how its latest project was being constructed. That happened to be the McCarter Switching Station, a facility owned by Public Service Electric & Gas, which is needed to handle Newark's increasing demand for power.

Unbeknownst to Jingoli & Son, Central High School, which has a pre-engineering academy, was looking to partner with a construction management company that would expose its students to careers and internships.

The unexpected match fit like a glove. Students began learning about construction. They met industry professionals, subcontractors and code officials. Permit approvals, budgets and learning skills in engineering and architecture became a part of their young lives.

Joseph R. Jingoli Jr., the company's chief executive officer, heard about the $3,500 shipping container the school had purchased for its disaster relief project. Central had the concept, but it didn't have the expertise to make it work.

"It's really a story about some amazing young people with a really good idea," Jingoli said. "Why don't we take the container and why don't we have the young people build it at the same time while we're building our project."

His company backed the project, paying $68,000 to develop the emergency container once the students figured out how it should be designed and built.

"We tried to make it feel like they're in their own home," said Marshall, 18. "We started lifting each other up as a team, and doing everything we could to get this project done."

They  were challenged to figure what works when they began construction three months ago. It is a metal box after all, and they had only 160 square feet to renovate.

"You had to think outside the box," said Jalloh, 21.

They worked on it before school, starting at 7 a.m., showing up early just like a construction crew, being held to the same standards. They had a schedule. Bush did the wiring; Jean-Jacques took care of the plumbing; Marshall handled the drilling; and Jalloh focused on solar panels and did a lot of the research to see what was the best fit.

Jingoli said the students were also designing the container as a command center that would be marketed and sold to utility companies for use during a storm.

"The live classroom took a real-world problem and made it into a possible solution," said Naseed Gifted, the school's vice principal in charge of the pre-engineering program. "This just shows what kids can do when given an opportunity."

They thought of just about everything for the container. A layer of ceramic paint is used to cover exterior surfaces in hot climates to repel 95 percent of radiation.

An air conditioner in the wall switches to heat. A crawl-space filtration system collects rainwater from the gutter. The container has a fire extinguisher, smoke detector, a fire alarm and a handicap-accessible ramp. Outside, there are plants by the front door and sliding glass window. The synthetic green surface resembles grass, giving it a residential flavor. A black mailbox is attached to the structure, which is equipped with a 72-hour emergency food kit.

"All you need is water and warm it up," said Jean-Jacques, 19.

They didn't forget anything.

"You can't clip the creativity," said principal Sharnee Brown. "This (field) is something they have access to now. They can see themselves vividly doing this in the future. It's not like some dream."

The Newark students are not finished. Jalloh and Jean-Jacques are interns and look the part, wearing sport coats, shirt, ties and slacks. After graduation on Monday, Bush and Marshall will join them.

This summer, Jingoli will have them teach young people at the Boys and Girls clubs in Atlantic City and Camden how to design a shipping container.

The company, which has major construction projects in those cities, will do the same thing there as it has in Newark. Young men and women will learn about construction, getting access to trades and internships.

Jingoli will conduct its Live Classroom program to teach young people at the Boys and Girls clubs about a large office tower it's building in Camden, and how it is converting the old Taj Mahal into a casino hotel entertainment complex in Atlantic City.

Each project will have a shipping container component with Newark students leading the way.

"They are professionals now," Jingoli said.

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