WORK BEGINS ON BRAD PITT'S GREEN PROJECT IN NINTH WARD - by

NEW ORLEANS With a brass band accompaniment, developers in this city's devastated Lower 9th Ward celebrated the start of construction Thursday on an environmentally friendly new home, based on the winning design in a competition launched by movie star Brad Pitt.

Bundles of hay were used to outline the site of the first house, which will serve as a model home and visitor center while construction of other houses are under way. The first house is expected to be complete in August around the time of the second anniversary of Hurricane Katrina.

The home will be made with energy-saving materials such as metal roofing and recycled textiles.

"Hopefully this can be a model for the level of redevelopment that can be done here," said Matt Petersen, president and CEO of Global Green USA, the environmental group working with Pitt on the project.

Global Green plans to sell the homes and plans to give preference to former residents of the Lower 9th Ward's Holy Cross neighborhood, where the homes are being constructed.

Though not present for Thursday's celebration, Pitt issued a statement to organizers from Prague, where he is visiting girlfriend Angelina Jolie, who is making a movie there.

"I'm crying out for one of our leaders to really make this a priority," he said. "For someone to say 'It's Apollo time' and call on our country, with all our ingenuity and genius, to move forward towards a future where we utilize these types of smart solutions."

More than 1,000 New Orleans-area school children where invited to Thursday's ceremony because Global Green is working to make their schools more energy efficient. Seven schools will be either updated or rebuilt entirely to receive more natural light and better air and water quality, Petersen said.

During a news conference Thursday, organizers announced that The Home Depot Foundation will be a funding partner in the $7- to $9-million-dollar 9th Ward project, which started with a design competition launched by Pitt in April 2006.

The winning plan, announced in August, was submitted by Matthew Berman and Andrew Kotchen of Workshop APD in New York. It includes designs for about a half-dozen single-family housing units, 18 apartments, a community center, play area and pedestrian bridge leading from the neighborhood to the top of the levee.

Pitt has contributed $100,000 to help underwrite the contest and another $100,000 to help cover contest prize money. In January, he and Jolie purchased an early-1830s masonry mansion in the French Quarter for $3.5 million.