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Small world
From the American West to the Middle East, David Lynch & Associates, a Lancaster fixture since 1961, is expanding its footprint

By Michael Schwartz
Lancaster Sunday News

We've seen what we've come here for," declared Abbas Gholoom as he stood in the cold drizzle outside the Fulton Bank building in Penn Square Thursday.

"I intend to recommend everything we've seen from day one," said Gholoom, the design department director and acting construction administrator in the Kuwaiti Department of Public Works.

Equally sanguine was Richard Hodges, who spoke via telephone from his 372-acre Arizona ranch Wednesday.

Hodges, whose spread borders Mexico, said, "Everything about her says she flat out knows what she's doing, and they're very, very good at what they do."

"She" is Barbara Lynch, and "they" are the architectural firm David Lynch & Associates, 500 Golf Road.

Half a world apart, two projects that could scarcely be more different are moving forward with a common bond: the Lancaster-based company.

The Kuwaiti government has contracted the firm to design 15 schools in Kuwait City, the capital. A contingent of three officials, including Gholoom, spent last week in the United States touring schools and other DLA-designed buildings.

On the Hodges ranch in Cochise County, Ariz., the Minuteman Civil Defense Corps has asked David Lynch & Associates to supervise construction of a one-mile-long, multilayered barrier separating the United States and Mexico.

"These experiences have been, how should I say it? Eye-opening," said Barbara Lynch, architect, principal and co-owner of David Lynch & Associates. Her father, David Lynch, founded the company in 1961.

"I've been learning that the world's a little bit different than I thought," she said.

Eastern Hemisphere

In early 2000, David Lynch & Associates received a fax saying, in mangled English, that the Kuwaiti Ministry of Education wanted the company to draft plans for a school.

"It just looked like a scam that you see all the time on the Internet," Lynch said, referring to a common swindle in which someone promises a large payoff in exchange for payment of minor "processing" fees.

"They didn't ask for any money," she said, "but it sounded fishy."

Several weeks later, the local firm began receiving faxes from Kuwaiti architectural firms asking DLA to partner with them.

A foreign company must have a Kuwaiti counterpart to work in the country.

Then a Kuwaiti company telephoned Lynch. At that time, the firm employed someone who spoke Arabic, and Lynch asked him to talk to the caller.

Satisfied with the translation, Lynch decided the offer was genuine.

After receiving permission from the State Department to work in Kuwait, David Lynch & Associates sent its papers to the Ministry of Education, which hired the firm in 2003 to build 15 "kindergartens."

Kuwaiti children attend kindergarten from the age of 3 or 4 until age 7. They then go on to elementary, junior and senior high schools, in separate buildings and divided by grades as in American schools.

Of the 15 sites allocated to the Education Ministry by the government, only seven were big enough to house the 12-classroom, single-floor design the government chose.

For the remaining eight, the schools would need to stand two stories, something a Kuwaiti kindergarten never had.

As ministry officials and the representative of the nation's school principals began to debate the two-story kindergarten idea, their dialogue slipped from total English, to a mixture of English and Arabic, to just Arabic, as they discussed the idea for several hours.

Some English words have no Arabic equivalent, however, which allowed Lynch to pick up on parts of the discussion.

"When they would say 'gymnasium' for example, it wasn't hard to figure out what they were talking about," she said.

The Western front

Seventeen people have been found dead on Richard Hodges' 372-acre cattle ranch in the past three years.

Hodges lives in the southeast corner of Arizona, on land first settled by his great-grandfather in 1898. The rugged terrain sits 4,800 feet above sea level, and the ones who didn't make it across his property all died of exposure in a harsh winter climate.

The 52-year-old has spent his whole life in Cochise County and describes growing up on the Mexican border as "very peaceful."

From the mid-90s on, however, Hodges has seen a very different picture emerge, and groups have formed to prevent illegal aliens from entering the country.

Besides an overall increase in the number of illegal aliens caught trying to cross into America through his land, Hodges has personally seen an increase in violence.

He described a recent incident in which he was shot at twice.

"I don't believe they meant to kill me," he said. "They were shooting a rifle from a long range. I saw the first bullet hit the ground near me before I heard the rifle, and before I could move, another bullet hit close.

"They just wanted to scare me and let me know they were there. If they'd wanted to kill me, I'd be dead," he said.

In April 2006, the Minuteman Civil Defense Corps approached Hodges about building an "Israeli-style" wall on his land, and he jumped at the offer.

The description "Israeli-style" refers to the massive Israeli West Bank barrier that, at some points, stands more than 23 feet high with other fortifications.

Hodges, while not a member of the Minuteman Civil Defense Corps, has gone along with its efforts to "stop illegal activity, period," he said.

"You have to support law enforcement," he said, but Hodges does not endorse xenophobia.

"If you're racist against Mexicans, you can get lost," he said.

Hodges' fence will not be nearly as formidable as the Israeli barrier. About 50 percent finished, the fence will cost about $650,000 and consist of a wall, 14-feet-high, covered with razor wire and dotted with night-vision and infrared cameras, according to a Dec. 10, 2006, article in the Arizona Daily Star, and confirmed by Hodges.

The wall will stand 60 feet behind a computerized chain-link-style fence, also covered with razor wire, that can distinguish between contact from humans versus wind or animals.

The Minuteman Civil Defense Corps asked Barbara Lynch and DLA to oversee the project.

David Lynch & Associates' role is to decide on the materials, find the manufacturers and negotiate with the construction company. Lynch declined to discuss the financial terms of the deal.

Lynch said that she views this, and all of her jobs, as apolitically as possible.

"I had to ask myself if I was ready to enter this political fray," she said. "If a doctor asked me to build an office, and I found out that he performed abortions there, would I let my position on the issue sway my decision? No," she said.

Her choice, she said, turns on what is legal and what is not.

For Hodges, the fence is more symbolic than practical. He acknowledges that someone determined to cross the border could walk a mile around his fortification, but that's beside the point.

"It shouldn't be individuals' jobs to secure the borders; the government should do that and until they do, we'll keep seeing projects like this," he said.