Daily Camera - September 19, 2009
By James Collector For the Camera
Field trips bridge the gap between classrooms and the real world.
For students in a civil engineering class at Centaurus High School, the chance to visit a recently constructed bridge on Sheridan Avenue in Broomfield offered a welcome change from blueprints and blackboards. Their teacher, Craig Weinhold, said that he enjoyed the outing as well.
"The more we get students outside the classroom, the better," Weinhold said. "This way they get more valuable experience talking to engineers, so they can relate what we're doing in the classroom to what they're doing out in the field."
After familiarizing themselves with the blueprints, 18 juniors and sophomores joined engineers from Flatiron Construction Corp. beneath the concrete bridge for a lesson in bridge design, planning and construction.
The field trip was not the first educational collaboration between Longmont-based Flatiron Construction and Centaurus High School. Flatiron Construction provides a scholarship program as well as internship opportunities for seniors at Centaurus.
"We got to see what supports the bridge, what makes it strong," said junior Erick Peña, 16. "I usually just see pictures of bridges, but it's a better experience to see how they're formed in person."
Students learned the step-by-step process undergone by Flatiron Construction while building the single-span concrete bridge. First the land was surveyed, then the site was excavated. Next, the abutments were set by driving in long piles down to the bedrock and pouring concrete. Large trucks hauled the precast girders to the site, where they were laid by a crane. After guardrails were installed, the bridge was ready for traffic.
"There's not many jobs where you actually go out and create things," said Mitch Fowler, a preconstruction manager for Flatiron. "But working construction, at the end of the day you look over your shoulder and you can see what you actually built. It's a great sense of accomplishment."
Junior Chris Hayes, 16, said that the experience will probably inspire him while constructing his model bridge for a civil engineering class project.
"I've walked underneath bridges before, but have never actually taken the time to observe them and how much effort is put into them," Hayes said.
"Today was just an example," said Weinhold, who also teaches biology and biotechnology classes at Centaurus. "The students will be building bridge models with balsa wood, choosing their own design. We're going to be testing it to see whose bridge is the strongest. We're going to hang a bucket from underneath it, then just put weight in it until it breaks."
The notion of stability arose at the end of the lesson while Fowler and Chris Hutton fielded questions from the group. One student asked how engineers account for the threat of natural disasters.
"Designers look at seismic conditions, wind conditions, geotechnical conditions, and they factor them into their design," said Fowler.
Also fielding questions with Fowler was Chris Hutton, who works as an engineering estimator for Flatiron Construction. Hutton explained that after designers finalize plans, companies bid for the job based on lowest cost and best value.
Competition between companies encourages innovative designs and pragmatic construction methods, Fowler said.
"What civil engineering comes down to is problem-solving, and that's what makes it creative and fun," he said.