Parker High School students will be able to tell their grandchildren that they had to walk uphill through the snow to get to school.
They also had to walk downhill through the snow and solve an engineering problem when they got to the bottom.
Wednesday, Parker High School’s engineering and construction classes met at the Janesville Schools Outdoor Laboratory.
“It’s important to show students real-life situations,” said Joe Kapugia, a technical education teacher. “And we wanted to have engineering and construction students there to get the viewpoints from two different occupations who are going to be working together.”
At issue was a flood-damaged bridge over Marsh Creek. The bridge had survived the floods of 2008 but was damaged in the recent round of winter flooding, explained Paul Stengel, coordinator of the outdoor lab.
Floodwaters swirled around the southern side of the bridge, creating an eddy that carried away the soil around the steps.
A large hole formed, and the concrete stairs were pulled into it. The southern part of bridge was pulled down and away from its supports.
Now several large posts are all that hold that side of the bridge out of the water.
In another area, flood debris blocked part of the creek, which formed its own path around the pile and was nibbling on part of the Ice Age Trail.
Kapugia and fellow teacher Aaron Bogacz asked students what, if anything, could have been done to keep the bridge from collapsing.
Soil samples might have given builders a better sense of the base they needed. Concrete supports might have helped.
But it’s also possible that the record flood of 2008 and this year’s flooding were too much for the stream banks.
At the end of class, the students hiked back up the hill with a challenge: Find a long-term fix for the bridge.
Later in the semester, city engineers will talk to students about how they developed their fix.
The outdoor lab, also known as the Robert O. Cook Arboretum, is a joint city-school district property. The city is in charge of bridge repairs.
The lab will benefit from the district’s new promises, a set of goals that includes the increased use of hands-on “engaged and empowered” teaching, Kapugia said.
The Janesville School Board backed up that promise by providing more funding for the outdoor lab, Stengel said. This year, sixth-grade classes will join the fourth-graders who visit the lab annually.
Stengel hopes high school students might be able to help with invasive species management and repairs to a cabin on the grounds.