students at the flume

Research and Results Beyond the Classroom

Bridging the Divide
Between Classroom and Real-World Design

December 2012

City officials in charge of natural areas and historic preservation have turned to Colorado State civil engineering students for a remedy to redesign an in irrigation flume structure into a safe and accessible pedestrian bridge.

beet farming in 1947

Sugar beet farming spurred the early development of Northern Colorado.

Sugar beet farming dominated Northern Colorado and spurred the region's development before declining, with changes in agriculture and giving way to increased population growth. The legacy of the industry, however, has left behind some unsightly and even dangerous elements, such as piles of lime-waste byproducts and decrepit, unsafe structures.

In Fort Collins, a historic conveyance flume, which dates back to 1926, formerly moved lime effluent waste into disposal sites but now stands abandoned next to the Cache la Poudre River.

The structure looks like a small suspension bridge halfway through completion with no flooring to safely walk across, so curious or mischievous passersbywho sometimes climb over angled and open trusses and concrete piers risk a fall and injury. Due to its proximity to a popular riverside biking and walking trail and the Kingfisher Natural Area, the flume is a significant hazard and liability.

City turns to students for answers

Concerned about the potential for a dangerous accident and vandalism, city officials in charge of natural areas and historic preservation have turned to Colorado State civil engineering students for a remedy. The project - to turn the flume structure into a safe and accessible pedestrian bridge - is being tackled by a senior design team of six student engineers.

beet farming in 1947

The students were asked to investigate how the flume structure might be turned into a safe and accessible pedestrian bridge.

"It's really an outside-the-box project," says Hilary Lehr, a team member from Hilliard, Ohio. "We didn't have a set design. It was pretty much, 'Here's this thing that already exists; what can we do to make it usable to the public?' It's definitely nice to think it could be made into something we can use here in Fort Collins."

The project has presented its share of challenges, forcing the students to apply concepts and skills developed throughout their academic careers. For starters, the students began from scratch in modeling its construction.

Creating the new blueprint

"We couldn't find any existing blueprints of the structure, so we had to create our own," says team member Ernie Watenpaugh, from Telluride, Colo., "and we didn't have an actual date of how old it was until we got on top of the piers and found a date scribbled in the concrete."

After the group created a new blueprint, they used Abaqus, a computer-aided engineering software program, and other modeling programs to study loading scenarios, reaching out to several engineering professors and professionals in the community for ideas and advice.

Paula Miller, the project's team leader from Loveland, Colo., says the project allowed the students to become proficient with the programs, while enabling them to ensure the structure could safely withstand weights associated with repairs, building a decking system and handrails, and future pedestrian use.

In drafting modifications and a new design, the students had to consider how a renovated structure can meet building codes and floodplain rules, as well as the different regulations and values of the city's natural areas and historic preservation departments. Fulfilling the different standards and goals and working with the city government staff has given the students a taste of the complexity of real-world design projects and is preparing them for career challenges after college.

"The whole project is an excellent pportunity for all of us to work together in a professional atmosphere and with the clients," says Lehr, "because [the city officials] hadn't really talked to each other and had two different ideas of how the project would go."

Balancing technical realities and the client's vision

structure of the flume

The team determined the flume is constructed of reclaimed railroad car wheels and tracks.

Considering the balance between meeting technical necessities and the clients' visions, the team is exploring several design options for a pedestrian bridge that the city will have to assess as officials determine the direction the project will proceed.

Through research and fieldwork, the students have realized that the original flume is a work of ingenuity and innovation. The structure, in fact, is constructed of reclaimed railroad car wheels and tracks. Nearly a century later, the student team - with guidance from CSU professors, engineering professionals, and the clients - is similarly marshaling its own resourcefulness to engineer the redesign and even contribute to the future development and integration of the city and its natural resources.

"A project like this makes you reflect on your undergraduate education," says team member Scott Kallase, from Fort Collins, "and it's important that we've been trained to identify a problem and locate the resources that we need to solve it."


Originally published in Collaboration, a College of Engineering publication showcasing student research projects, collaborations, and engineering programs.

© 2012 Colorado State University, Fort Collins, Colorado 80523 USA  |  T.O.P.S.