Carnegie Mellon University
June 04, 2013

2013 Design and Construction Project

2013 Design and Construction Project

Using a pumper truck, students fill forms that will be the footers for concrete columns. Using a pumper truck, students fill forms that will be the footers for concrete columns.

When construction for the Sherman and Joyce Bowie Scott Hall began this past school year, Carnegie Mellon’s Facility Management Services (FMS) needed to find a new space to store the electric vehicles it uses to maintain the campus. So FMS head and CEE Adjunct Professor Don Coffelt worked with Teaching Professor Lawrence “Larry” Cartwright to come up with a solution: They turned to CEE’s “Design and Construction,” a unique course for undergraduate seniors that Cartwright has led for over 20 years, to help solve the problem.

Cartwright and Duquesne Light University Professor Chris Hendrickson first brainstormed the course in 1988, with the goal of providing undergraduate students with the holistic experience of designing and constructing a project from start to finish. This semester was the last time that Cartwright will offer the course: He is retiring at the end of June, although he will continue to teach part-time.

For this semester’s project, the students broke into five teams to design the structure for the parking lot, which required electrical outlets for FMS’ vehicles and a roof to protect them from rain and snow. The groups then presented each of their designs to FMS, who selected elements from multiple proposals to create the final design.

Once the final design was selected, students had to work out all the details, down to “where every little screw goes,” Cartwright said. For instance, Sarah Ramp (CEE BS ’13, MS ’14) was assigned to work on the design for the steel roof, which needed to be able to withstand both wind and snow loads. “It’s a lot of work that I’ve never done before,” she said. She and several of her classmates spent about a month working on the roof design before they even started drawing the final design. The students then had to implement the design themselves by working on the construction site; the work included creating footings for concrete columns that house the electrical outlets, pouring the concrete, putting in a curb, spreading gravel, and installing 1,200 square feet of permeable pavers.

 Site foreman Brian Choe (CEE BS ’12, MS ’13) has worked on three other projects as Cartwright’s student employee, but said that this project has been his favorite. “In this project, there are aspects of heavy civil engineering — there’s concrete pouring, there’s a lot of design factors and structural design factors,” he explained. “And our design is going to be used by FMS, so that makes me feel good to know that we’re making something that’s going to be used every day,” Choe added. “Because if you think about it, we’re building these parking lots for FMS vehicles, and FMS vehicles are going to be used to help maintain this campus, so in a sense, we’re at the bottom of the chain of a bigger process.”

Melissa Daly (CEE BS’13) also appreciated the greater contributions that the class makes to the campus community. “After you leave, you can come back and see something your class built,” she said.

Cartwright believes that the greatest takeaway from the course is the bigger lesson that the students learn, which is “reality,” he said. “Students gain appreciation for the built world, as it doesn’t seem quite as simple as they originally thought - which means they gain an appreciation for life, because it’s not as simple as it looks.”