Casita Linda: Building more, building better and building lives in Mexico
Casita LindaBy Mark Bilker (10/07/11)
Atención San Miguel exclusive!
See how Casita Linda builds house #41 in this feature video
The hallmark of a successful organization, be it a mega profit- making international corporation or a local non-profit such as San Miguel’s own Casita Linda, is its receptiveness to new ideas, new initiatives, and new ways of doing things.
Casita Linda builds small brick homes in the municipality of San Miguel for families living in extreme poverty and is totally supported by individual donations and private foundation grants. As of September 2011 it has fully funded and constructed a total of 42 homes, which presently enhance the lives of 75 adults and 150 children.
In the case of Casita Linda its openness to innovation and partnerships has allowed it to successfully improve its building operations, expand the scope of its social services offerings and, in general, continue its successful efforts “to create a dignified, safe and empowering environment that will provide a foundation of hope for families living in extreme poverty” in San Miguel de Allende.
On the construction side, the search for new and better methods and materials has led Casita Linda to experiment with various brick compositions and make major changes in material and methodology in the way it constructs its roofs. Tabicon brick is currently being used for the basic house with the roof evolving from a brick arch to a self-supporting ferro cement barrel structure utilizing a design developed by Steve Kornher (www.flyingconcrete.com). Kornher donated his design to Casita Linda and also instructed the crew on its proper installation.
The construction team is presently preparing to introduce, on an experimental basis, a new composite roofing material used in the construction of very large pre-fabricated structures such as those seen at the intersection of the San Miguel–Queretaro Highway and Route 57. Though more expensive than materials currently utilized, the new material, if proved satisfactory, offers the advantage of significantly faster installation which, in turn, may allow for the construction of additional homes each year.
Casita Linda offers three sizes of casitas depending on the need of the family and the size of the building lot. From start to finish construction time runs four to seven weeks at a cost of US$6,500 to US$8,500. Casita Linda’s four-member, full time Mexican construction crew—one of whom is a Casita Linda home recipient—together with an ever-changing cadre of volunteer workers and recipient family members, do all of the building.
“Though we are clearly inviting of newer, more innovative materials and improved construction methodologies,” said Casita Linda board member and construction supervisor Terry Weathers, “we are constantly concerned about product longevity, efficiency of use and, of course, cost.”
“Our guiding principal is pretty basic; we require materials that are low maintenance, inexpensive, and efficient relative to permitting us to build quickly without sacrificing quality. I would also like to note that virtually all of our construction materials are purchased from local distributors within the greater San Miguel area,” Terry concluded.
Social-services-related innovations, many of which involve partnering with sister San Miguel organizations including Amigos de Animales, Rotary Mid-day, The Green Fund, SPA, The Garden Club of San Miguel, Patronados de Ninos, and Via Organica, now include the introduction of water harvesting, instruction in how to plant and maintain vegetable gardens, an increased emphasis on children’s medical and dental care, and the proper care and treatment of pets.
Gordon Logan, a board member and Casita Linda’s special projects coordinator, is particularly excited by the water harvesting and gardening projects. The steady depletion of the water table and the many health-related problems that arise from this condition, make the teaching of harvesting and the installation of holding tanks (cisterns) in Casita Linda’s new houses a crucial element of the building program.
“We look forward to working in a water catchment effort and to work with The Green Fund (a city of San Miguel initiative), which will assist Casita Linda with the funding of the raw materials,” said Gordon.
The gardening project, which received a boost from an instructional workshop conducted by Vía Orgánica, also offers great promise as a self-help tool.
The workshop, which was attended by five Casita Linda families, focused on composting and the construction of composting bins. The Garden Club of San Miguel has expressed interest in partnering in this project by assisting with the purchase of good topsoil and seed.