ACE students design new Sellwood Bridge’s belvedere benches

See how a senior project created by four graduates may live on for decades – and be sat on by thousands

When the new Sellwood Bridge opens, benches – like this prototype, designed and built by ACE Academy students – will grace its belvedere overlooks.

Story and photos by David F. Ashton
For the past three school years, although it’s located deep in outer East Portland, students from the Architecture Construction Engineering Academy (ACE Academy) charter school have participated in the new Sellwood Bridge Project in meaningful ways.

When the Multnomah County Board of Commissioners met on the morning of Thursday, June 12, a semicircular wood and steel bench had been assembled before them in the chamber.

ACE Academy seniors Jesse Martinez, Rebekah Fast, Taylor Lehman, and Ethan Wells take a seat on the bench they designed, before their presentation to the Multnomah County Board of Commissioners.

Multnomah County Chair Deborah Kafoury and commissioners listen, as the ACE Academy students tell about their “real life” project.

“This year, students from the ACE Academy were to design and build four benches to be installed at belvederes on the new Sellwood Bridge,” Multnomah County Chair Deborah Kafoury announced, as the presentation began.

“The project turned out to be a little more daunting than anticipated,” Kafoury continued. “This year, the students focused on the bench’s design, and on building the full scale prototype you see here before you.”

Seated before the Multnomah County Board of Commissioners, the ACE Academy students described their process used to design and construct the prototype bench.

Graduating ACE Academy seniors Jesse Martinez, Rebekah Fast, Taylor Lehman, and Ethan Wells introduced themselves – and began with a PowerPoint presentation, taking turns telling about all the different aspects of their project.

In the beginning, the students explained that they’d met with representatives of the architectural firm, Safdie Rabines Architects, regarding bench design specified for the bridge. And, they checked in with bridge-building officials throughout the year, as the designed process developed.

The students described why they modified the original architects’ design to strengthen the bench. And, they added arches between the legs on the bench, and rounded the armrests to complement the arches of the bridge.

ACE Academy students Jesse Martinez and Rebekah Fast pose for a photo with their instructor, Doug Mella, along with Sellwood Bridge Replacement Project Manager Ian Cannon, Oregon Building Congress Executive Director Tom Goodhue, and students Taylor Lehman and Ethan Wells.

As part of establishing a design and building process, the students calculated time and material price estimates, and made a detailed cost analysis. They applied math skills when making scale drawings, performing calculations to make sure the benches would fit appropriately.

And they applied other skills for stress testing bench frames and joints, and analyzing the types of welding and wood stain that would be best for the environment.

The Multnomah County Commissioners applauded both the students’ diligence and their final project. Commissioner Judy Shiprack commented, “I am really in awe!”

The project’s supervisor – also an ACE Academy math instructor – Doug Mella looked pleased, both with the prototype and with his students’ presentation. “This is a real-life project, giving our students real-life experience that an architect and engineer would go through. It’s been an extremely valuable experience for them. They did a great job.”

A new team of seniors will use the prototype to actually build the four permanent benches during the 2014-2015 school year. The benches will be in place when the new bridge opens in the fall of 2015.

After their presentation ACE Academy students Taylor Lehman, Jesse Martinez, Ethan Wells, and Rebekah Fast (top row from left) pose with Commissioners Bailey, Shiprack, Chair Kafoury, Commissioners McKeel and Smith.

As the county commissioners moved on to other business, Sellwood Bridge Replacement Project Manager Ian Cannon commented to East Portland News, “The bench design is awesome. We’re already looking forward to having those on the bridge.”

About the overall project, Cannon said the contractors are making good progress. “We’re at about the 60% mark on the project – and pretty much on schedule and on budget.”

Follow the Sellwood Bridge rebuilding project process at their website: CLICK HERE.

Learn more about the outer East Portland ACE Academy charter school by visiting their website: CLICK HERE.

© 2014 David F. Ashton ~ East Portland News

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