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From straw to stucco to a home

RED SHIRT, S.D. - Lesson number one: When you build a house on the Badlands, pick a better time than July with its 100-degree, dry weather.

The most popular person on the site, where more than 70 volunteers were constructing the straw-bale home for Larry and Josephine Fast Wolf, was the person circulating with a spritz bottle of water. The mist on the volunteer's faces brought many smiles and ahhhs.

Many of the volunteers came from St. Thomas More Church in Darien, Conn. Funding for the home came from the church patrons who also helped build the $40,000 home. The tent city where the volunteers lived for the two weeks confused Josephine's sister. She thought either a wake or a family pow wow was in progress. Her sister, from Kansas, came to offer the prayers and presented the objects used to top off the roof.

On July 11, the house of straw was just that, straw. On July 14, the exterior was stucco. Two coats of stucco are spread on over the straw bales with a final, seal coat that contains the coloring pigment, said David Riley, associate professor in the construction department at the University of Washington.

The interior of the home also is finished off with the stucco. A finishing coat is textured which can be painted to look more like a conventional wall. The ceiling and a core wall that provide separation for the bath and utility areas will be finished with dry-wall material.

The home was designed at the University of Washington and each time a home is built, the plans are reviewed and the design improved, Riley said.

The Fast Wolf home is expected to be very suitable to the extreme temperatures and weather conditions on the South Dakota plains. As the stucco and insulation properties of the straw took effect, the interior of the home was quite comfortable despite the extreme heat of the outside, volunteers said. It was obvious when the inside became very crowded with volunteer workers looking for something to do.

The Fast Horses lived in a smaller home on the property and brought up 25 children in the old house. It is still a home that is important to them. It will undergo some renovations, Paul Iron Cloud of the Oglala Housing Authority said, and the Fast Horses' daughter will move in the house.

The Fast Horse family was chosen through a lottery conducted by the Adopt a Grandparents Program of Taos, N.M.

The St. Thomas More Church family builds a home a year in Appalachia. Through the work of Barbara Luby, youth director for the church and a member of Adopt a Grandparent, the church extended its reach and contacted Robert Young, executive director of the Red Feather Development Group. The group has a partnership with the University of Washington to design and build the homes. A straw-bale home was built on the Crow Reservation in 1999.

The new, two-bedroom home is larger than the Fast Wolfs' older home. The entire construction took two weeks. The Fast Wolfs moved in July 23. Construction on the home began July 9.