High school students design part of Chicago’s most unique park network

Several juniors and seniors from North Grand High School’s architecture and engineering class have been given the rare opportunity to design a retaining wall of the Bloomingdale, Chicago’s first elevated park and trail system, located near 1776 N. Milwaukee Ave.
In 2003, Chicago representatives called for this to become a trail in the Logan Square open space plan, according to Beth White, Director of the Trust for Public Land for the Chicago region office. White states that Friends of the Bloomingdale Trail got together and began advocating for the park.
“[Friends of Bloomingdale Trail] approached us in 2005 to help move the project forward. So we bought a little piece of land, we helped build a park there and helped the park district get more funding to do some permanent improvements. It was one of those situations where the more we did, the more we were asked to do,” said White.
There is a long process when creating something this grand in order for it to come together and White states that they decided to do it because those communities – Logan Square, Humboldt Park Bucktown and Wicker Park – are all short on park space. “There was a very visionary look at this unused rail corridor and what we could do with it. I think a lot of it was powered by great ideas,” said White. She also adds that there were a number of other people and agencies who came together to see it through, such as the Department of Education and Housing and Development who put the plan forward and saw it as an opportunity to provide park space and community amenities.
Aside from managing the design team and leading the fundraising campaign, they’re making sure the community is very involved in every aspect of the Bloomingdale. It is important that the youth in particular play a role in how the park is designed.
The park is on track for completion by the fall of 2014. Currently, there are 22 high school juniors and seniors involved in the project. They worked directly with engineers to help design a retaining wall of the Bloomingdale. Luis Benitez, Senior Structural Engineer with Collins Engineers is in charge of overseeing the Bloomingdale project and has taken part in designing and repairing several bridges. Benitez states that they’re teaching the students about how physics and math are involved in engineering and how it helps with structural development.
“We found the opportunity here to get students that were close to this project, to get them involved and help them understand some of our design; to give them more practical knowledge.” said Benitez. “When we started they thought that designing a retaining wall was only about putting concrete and rebar. Now they’re getting into the physics and engineering that goes behind it.”They will be given hands-on experience in architecture and engineering “so at the end of the day, they will be able to say, ‘we designed this,’” he added.
The students are using computer-aided design to determine the massive weight loads of one of the 12 foot high retaining walls, which will support the Bloomingdale. They are being given a life-lesson on the importance that engineers have on our daily lives and the long and rigorous process that goes into designing something that will be around for a long time.
“Friends of the Bloomingdale Trail” is a non-profit organization in favor of the conversion of the Bloomingdale rail embankment into a multi-use, linear park and trail.

By: Deysi Cuevas

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