Devastated by flooding, Skanska lends a helping hand to a community in dire need

In North Carolina, 95 miles from our office, sits the town of Princeville, the first town chartered by freed slaves after the Civil War in 1886. With a population of 2,200 residents, Princeville is a small town built on family, tradition, and perseverance. In early 2017, Skanska was introduced to the community of Princeville when 36 employees from around the globe set out to help the town because of its economic needs and unique historical significance.

In September 2016, Skanska partnered with the University of North Carolina Kenan-Flagler Business School and the Kenan Institute of Private Enterprise to create a phased Community Investment (CI) project that would promote economic development and improve the community’s connectivity by supporting the construction of a community center through in-kind services.

Unfortunately, three weeks later, the plans for a new community center were derailed when Hurricane Matthew swept through the town. Located on the Tar River, the torrential rains and rising water levels were severe and caused catastrophic flooding and widespread destruction that damaged and closed all of the local businesses and left more than 75% of the residents unable to return to their devastated homes.

The Skanska team soon found themselves with a challenge far beyond its original intention. This was no longer about building a community center; it became a question of how does one of the largest construction and development firms in the world lend a hand to a community in dire need.

This was not the first time the town of Princeville was ravaged by flood waters. Seven times in total since its charter, Princeville has seen near total devastation and has fought back. In 1999, Hurricane Floyd almost left the entire town of Princeville underwater. Today, the destruction from Hurricane Matthew, along with the history of flooding, some residents have said good-bye to this historic town while others left standing remain strong, focused and determined to see Princeville thrive and prosper.

As Skanska’s first CI project outside of an office or jobsite, challenges arose that ranged from understanding the severity of the flood-prone land to working with a geographically dispersed team, and dealing with an unprecedented project with no real parameters, protocols or structure to follow. One of the most significant commitments was to have boots on the ground to help organize, facilitate and build strong relationships with the people of Princeville. Skanska General Manager Greg Peele assigned Project Manager Becky Olson to this role.

With our original goal of designing and building a community center now put on hold, the focus shifted to helping the residents of Princeville recover, rebuild and become self-sustaining.

Currently, our goals include the following:

  • Increase morale and commitment of residents,
  • Educate residents and town leaders to help manage countless priorities,
  • Increase awareness of the town’s historical significance,
  • Identify solutions to flooding risks,
  • Create a way for residents to strengthen the community, and
  • Preserve the rich history of the town.

Combating the devastating effects of Hurricane Matthew

Skanska created an advisory board specifically to bridge the gap between the various local and federal stakeholders while advising the town on recovery and resiliency issues. Ideas include moving buildings to higher ground and carefully evaluating new locations for city growth. Through this experience, the team is learning firsthand about long-term recovery in disaster situations; knowledge that can help for future situations.

To provide immediate aid to the town, the team donated four laptops to community leaders to apply for federal government grants to gain funding to rebuild.

Looking ahead to a brighter future for Princeville

The residents of Princeville see this as an opportunity to work towards rebuilding their community while making it even better in the long term. The rich history of the town has led everyone to believe that we can work towards a common goal to improve the current situation in which the town sits.

Currently, Skanska is assisting in establishing a 501c3 for donations to be funneled to and working on the vision of where those funds should be applied. The town is working with the state and FEMA to create a Princeville Recovery Team structure to engage volunteers who would like to participate in the recovery efforts.

The culture of Princeville embodies the values of caring for each other, pride in their history, resilience in the face of crisis, and ideals that create a legacy for the future so that the important history marked by its original ancestors is not lost.