Friday, June 17, 2011

Local Students Design and Build Historic Memorial Bridge

By Larry Favinger
Staff Columnist
Twenty-one model bridges have been built at Shapleigh School, each of them a possible replacement for the historic Memorial Bridge that spans the Piscataqua River joining Portsmouth and Kittery.
The designing and building of these structures was a seventh grade program to teach ratio and proportion, said math teacher Robyn Angus earlier this week in her classroom at the school, and was selected because the Memorial Bridge “affects our community greatly.”
Nancy Sebert, a language arts teacher who was also involved with the project, said it was a way to get students “involved in community issues and complex problem solving” with the trial run of a bridge building project.
The 67 students participating in the project were divided into 21 teams to design the bridges. The actual structures are made of Popsicle sticks, glue, string and toothpicks and measure about seven feet in length.
Building bridges at the school is not new, but the scope of this year’s project was considerably larger. In previous years the bridges, made of toothpicks, have been designed for the Kittery Point area. This year the Memorial Bridge span was selected.
“We wanted students to learn more about the importance of this bridge to our community, so we used as much real work application as possible to have students design, build, and persuade an audience that their company (team) should be hired to replace the Memorial Bridge,” Ms. Sebert said in a prepared release.
She said the bridge was selected because of its historical, structural, and commercial worth to the Seacoast area.
It is to be replaced in the next few years.
Part of the project was to learn from various people about the bridge and its importance. Those speaking to the class included Keith Coda, the project manager of the Memorial Bridge Reconstruction project from the New Hampshire Department of Transportation; Jon Carter, Kittery town manager, and Thurston Powell, a retired tugboat operator.
The 21 groups were divided into two boys’ rooms and two girls’ rooms. Each group selected its own project manager, architect, and accountant with specific roles to accomplish. “We were trying to make it as realistic as possible,” Sebert said.
Each had a budget of $90 million, the estimate for the actual replacing of the Memorial Bridge as reported in local media.
Sebert said each group also had to write a proposal including project scope and project phases including costs. Each project will be judged and the winners of each room will receive a plaque.
The winners will then go before the school’s student body and the one voted best will receive another plaque.
“We are learning a lot about bridge design, working as a team, budgeting measurement, accuracy, and problem solving when there are no easy answers,” Sebert wrote. “Both students and teachers will play a crucial role in revising this project each year to improve on it and make it even more expeditionary.”
Sebert said this year’s project did not include a requirement for a lift in the bridge to allow for the large ships entering Portsmouth Harbor, but that will be included in next year’s project.
(Nancy Sebert contributed to this report.)
Photo caption: Two of 21 bridges designed and built by students at Shapleigh School (photo by Larry Favinger)