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.

When Linda Figg, president/CEO of FIGG Engineering Group, Tallahassee, Fla., visited the National Building Museum in Washington, D.C., she was captivated by a decorative concrete exhibit using exposed recycled glass aggregate. This led her to propose to the I-35W St. Anthony Falls Bridge Visual Quality Advisory Team that a concrete wall alongside walkways under the I-35W Bridge in Minneapolis be faced with concrete tiles using recycled glass aggregates. FIGG Engineering Group has had a focus on educating students and supported the National Building Museum in developing a “Bridge Basics Kit” that the Museum distributes.

Samples cast the previous day and sprayed with a surface retarder are washed to reveal colored, broken, recycled glass.
Samples cast the previous day and sprayed with a surface retarder are washed to reveal colored, broken, recycled glass.

FIGG Engineering Group expanded on the core of the Bridge Basics Kit to include the new I-35W bridge and also developed a special curriculum for 5th- and 6th-grade school children in the Greater Twin Cities along with teaching aids and packaged it all into the “Casting the Future” program. Invitations went out to public schools in the Twin Cities in the hopes that 600 students would sign up. Responses resulted in doubling the length of the program with 1800 students enjoying a learning experience that included casting concrete mosaic glass tiles. The North Central States Regional Training Center was volunteered by Lakes and Plains Regional Council of Carpenters and Joiners as a site to host the program. Cemstone, Mendota Heights, Minn., created a special mix design for the 16x6-inch concrete tile. Cemstone also mixed the concrete, supervised the children's placing and finishing of the concrete, and the washing to expose the recycled glass, along with instructing students on the components of concrete.

Each day, 60 school kids learned about bridge construction and the properties of concrete. Shown here, a student strikes off her tile.
Joe Nasvik Each day, 60 school kids learned about bridge construction and the properties of concrete. Shown here, a student strikes off her tile.

Each morning 60 students came by bus to the training facility to be part of a one-hour presentation by FIGG Engineering Group team members covering concrete basics and how concrete bridges are built. During the presentations, there were "Brain Teaser"; quizzes to reinforce the learning. Then Amy Barrett of Flatiron-Manson gave the students a safety lesson. Students donned safety gear to cast a concrete tile, filling the mold (which staff sprayed with a retarding agent beforehand), striking-off the back side of the tile, and smoothing the surface. When the students were finished, each was given a tile cast the previous day to wash the concrete and expose the glass aggregate. The recycled glass created a mosaic of blue, green, and golden colors.

The Carpenters Union lent their training facility to the project.
The Carpenters Union lent their training facility to the project.

When the tile making was complete, children visited with workers from the building trades involved in the I-35W bridge construction, asking them questions and learning about their work. The union representatives brought the tools of their trade with them to show students. Each child's picture was taken behind a cardboard mock-up of a worker's attire and they were given a small exposed aggregate tile to remember their effort and a “Build-a-Bridge Kit” with cutout pieces so they could build an accurate paper model of the I-35 bridge. Teachers were given the I-35W version of the National Building Museum “Bridge Basics Kit” as a teaching guide to continue the education in the classroom. Students were than treated to a tour of the construction site.

At a time when we wonder where the next generation of engineers, architects, trades people, and construction managers will come from, one wonders what the future impact of a program like this will be.