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Riverdale News & Stories

Senior Project: Taylor's Bridge
Posted 06/06/2016 01:27PM


Taylor Atkin ’16 has always loved figuring out puzzles and building things. So perhaps it is not surprising that she designed and built a bridge on the Riverdale campus for her senior independent project.

 “I love being outdoors. I love doing things with my hands,” she said. “It was nice to be out there with the nature, and the wood, and the tools.”

Seniors who pursue an independent project are released from their classes for 4 to 7 weeks depending on the proposal. Taylor had one month to get the project done.

She originally planned for a 40-foot bridge to span a swampy area in front of the Lindenbaum Arts Center but she discovered that environmental zoning laws prohibited construction there. She settled on another location: an out-of-the-way hilly spot on campus behind the soccer field. She drew up new measurements, sketched the design, built a model out of Popsicle sticks, and ordered wood. New issues arose: the wood shipment was delayed, rainy weather pushed back the start of construction, and challenging topography required further refinements to her measurements. Time was precious, and the preliminary work was taking much longer than she expected.

Her plan for a half-truss bridge, which would have been supported by triangular struts, evolved into box girder structure when she realized that her pressure-treated wood could support significant weight. As she prepared for construction, she had to address a tricky site issue: one side of the bridge is 37 inches higher than the other. She learned about leveling, an exacting process which she called “one of the hardest things I’ve ever had to do.”

The days were passing quickly, and there was decking to build, and a railing to erect, steps to fashion, and painting to be done. On June 1, she presented her completed project to teachers, friends, and family.

Taylor worked with Brian Carver, her varsity swimming coach, 12th grade, and a math teacher on the project. He helped her with carpentry techniques and design problem-solving. A cast of friends helped with carrying the wood to the site, lifting structures into place, painting, and other tasks.

Taylor is interested in studying engineering at Colgate next year, and she certainly got a sense of real-life engineering challenges. The project management aspects, though, made a deep impression. “You are not only working on your own timeline,” she said, “but you are working on the timeline of many others.”

To read more about the senior projects, go to the following links: 

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