U of I students help build Boardwalk at Allerton

A group of about 30 University of Illinois students prepared for an international bridge-building project by taking on something a bit smaller at Allerton Park this past Saturday.

Students gathered to construct a 15-foot boardwalk across a low spot on a north side trail that will eventually be part of a pedestrian and bicycle path at the park. Officially it is called a boardwalk, but it will still help bridge two parts of a trail just north of the Fu Dog Garden that often fills with water.

“Eventually this will be where the bicycle path goes, but for right now its connecting between the Fu Dog tower and Terrace Field Trails and Diversified Farm trails,” said park Associate Manager Derek Peterson of the project on the north side of Allerton. “When runners would come to cross this, especially in the spring they would have to go up to the road. We’ve heard some complaints about that.”

The 6.5-foot-wide boardwalk will not only help bridge that gap, it is helping the U of I students prepare to help build a 40-foot-long suspension bridge in the small village of Awozhu in southwest China. As part of the university’s Learning in Community (LINC) program, they will leave for China on Dec. 23 and wanted some practical work before heading overseas.

“We thought this would be great hands-on experience, so they will be ready for the bigger project,” said Sphurti Joglekar, who along with fellow teaching assistant Qiwen Chen are the instructors of this LINC class.

The Allerton project has actually spanned three semesters, with students first taking soil samples to see what kind of buttressing was needed for the bridge, taking measurements, and making sure there were materials available for the day of the boardwalk build. Allerton employees made sure the concrete undergirding for the boardwalk was in place, and also provided the wood from Osage Orange (Hedge) trees that populate the park.

Joglekar said motivating students was no problem.

“They were really excited about the fact that, at the end they were actually going to build something, so they took a lot of interest in knowing things, like how to drive bolts, put up railings,” she said. “It’s very rewarding.”

Chen said the bridge in China will allow the village to more easily transport goods to a larger city nearby.

“It’s a very remote area, and they have no way to get goods out of the village. Right now they walk across a river, but can’t do that all year round,” commented Chen.

Large enrollment
Between 300 and 400 students take part in the 15 sections of LINC each semester, according to Bruce Elliott-Litchfield, a professor and assistant dean in the College of Engineering. Other projects this year include partnerships with the Don Moyer Boys & Girls Club, the Haiti Clean Stove Project, working with the City of Urbana to promote sustainability projects, and the Homer Lake Interpretive Center.

“Students really like it because it’s a real project. You’re partnering with someone in need,” said Elliott-Litchfield.

Jon Stricker, a junior studying civil engineering, has been in the LINC program for three semesters, and hopes it gives him a leg up on some of his fellow students.

“You definitely learn more about design. You don’t get into design classes until late junior and senior year, so this is really helpful,” said Stricker.

Peterson admits it took a “lot of coordination” to get the students together on one particular Saturday, but said it is worth it to get the park’s bike path project a little closer to reality.

Joglekar said the students work well together, despite having majors that range from civil engineering to biology and business.

For the project in China, students will work with the Wuzhi Qiao charitable organization. Participants will chip in plane fare, with Wuzhi Qiao taking on expenses while they are in China.

LINC
Learning In Community is a three-credit hour class that teams students to work together on projects proposed by community partners. Students identify and explore topics that assist them in completing those projects.

According to the LINC website, “as a result of this course you can expect to improve your project skills and to contribute to an important problem that benefits the community.”

The wide variety of subjects being addressed also keep the program fresh, said Elliott-Litchfield.

“It’s something different all the time. It’s always something new,” he said.

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