Linda Figg helping young people get interested in concrete and bridge construction.
FIGG Engineering Group Linda Figg helping young people get interested in concrete and bridge construction.

In this column, you will read about public school children involved in the I-35W bridge project, making decorative concrete tiles to be placed on concrete abutment walls alongside walkways under the bridge at 2nd St. The concrete tiles were Linda Figg's idea, one that she had while touring the National Building Museum in Washington, D.C. One of the exhibits addressed sustainable possibilities with concrete, showing a sample of exposed aggregate concrete using recycled glass as aggregate. That started her wondering about creating decorative concrete tiles for the walls. Mn/DOT requires public input and involvement on bridge projects, and for the I-35W bridge, FIGG Engineering Group involved the public in a full-day bridge design charrette. Community participants voted on ideas that were incorporated into the design and on every Saturday morning went for a walk with construction managers to discuss the construction. But, as the project developed, Figg thought that constructing decorative tiles would be a way to involve local school children, teaching them about concrete and bridge construction, giving them an opportunity “to get their hands in the mud” in the process, and be a part of the history in building this important bridge.

At most conferences I attend, the subject of where the next generation of construction workers will come from is discussed. Membership in the trades is aging and not replaced at the levels needed for the future. The same concern exists for civil engineers. At the same time, there is little promotion to the public about concrete and its many benefits. Figg's approach engaged the minds of 1800 5th- and 6th-grade children, who will never forget their experience and maybe some of them will be influenced as a result to be part of the construction industry when the time comes for them to choose a career. Here, in their words, is what made an impression:

“We got to say ‘hi' to the people working on top of the bridge. I learned they are going to be using 120 giant Lego blocks to make part of the bridge.” —Devan

“I enjoyed doing the tiles, like brushing them to make them shiny. I liked them. They are so beautiful.” —Martha

“Making the blocks was fun because you knew it was going on the bridge so you wanted to make it the best you could. When you washed the glass on the back, the glass shimmered in the light. All the colors were cool.” —Jack

“I enjoyed the tile making because it gets put into the bridge. The fun was making it because it's so cool to make a tile that has recycled glass. I like the part when you scrub the tile for the colors of the glass to show. Thank you for letting me be included.” —JoAnn

“I can't wait until I get to show my family the tile I made! This was a once-in-a-lifetime chance.” —Kylee

“I enjoyed creating the concrete blocks. I liked scrubbing the blocks and seeing what it looked like in the end. I really enjoyed putting my face on the cardboard figure of the construction worker (photographed looking like a construction worker).” —Naomi

“I really enjoyed making concrete tiles. It first looked like oatmeal because it looked brown and there was chunks and it was gooshy. It was weird. But I loved doing it. I really enjoyed shinning the tiles. I scrubbed a lot but I wanted it to look the finest. When I was done it was shiny like colorful gems.” —George

“I enjoyed making the tiles because you actually got to smooth it out and make it. I also enjoyed taking pictures and pretending to be an engineer person.” —Yevgeniy

“Thank you for the opportunity for teaching us how you are going to build the bridge. I thought it was really cool that we got to build a cement block to put on the bridge. I thought it was really interesting how they are building the bridge. It is especially cool that our cement block that we made is going to be on the side of the bridge. I really thank you again for the opportunity you gave us. You inspired me to become an engineer.”     —Nathan