Cub Scouts, wearing hardhats and tool belts, pulled sheets of cardboard from stacks towering above them. They raced back and forth across the hangar as they hurried to begin building bridges and buildings. Meanwhile, other scouts sketched out designs on graph paper with rulers while their teammates used T-squares to cut cardboard to create support beams.
The 180th Fighter Wing partnered with the Boy Scouts of America’s Erie Shores Council to host the annual Construction City event late last month for more than 450 scouts, parents and volunteers who built cities and bridges entirely out of cardboard.
Construction City is a science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) initiative, which teaches the scouts about the entire construction process, from zoning and acquiring proper permits to design, construction and demolition.
“We find that this event really opens up the first step for careers in engineering,” said Steve Porter, the staff advisor for Construction City. “The scouts are designing a structure, they’re drawing blueprints, they’re purchasing permits, they’re purchasing land, and they’re building on that land.”
The scouts were assigned to one of two divisions, buildings and bridges. Scouts assigned to the building division were able to build any structure they wanted, but were limited in supplies, using only tape and cardboard. The structures were then judged, based on creativity and merit.
The structures they built ranged from historical landmarks such as the Washington Monument and the Eiffel Tower to local landmarks such as the Toledo Fire Department, the 180th FW and the Ohio State University football stadium.
Older scouts were placed in bridge building division where they built 12-foot long bridges, which were judged on their structural integrity.
“We’re not rewarding the scouts by how much weight the bridge can carry,” said Stephen Way, a volunteer who tested the structural integrity of the bridges. “We reward them based on a ratio. We weigh the bridge first, we load the bridge through a winch system, and we calculate how much force the bridge can hold. We reward the scouts based on how much force the bridge can hold versus how much it weighs.”
Way said the average weight of bridges was between 40 and 80 pounds, but one bridge weighed over 200 pounds. He said the load ratio was between 1-to-1 and 4-to-1 with an average ratio of 2.5-to-1. His advice to scouts was to keep their designs simple.
“The best designs are the simplest,” Way said. “Sometimes the designs are very intricate and the scouts run out of time. If they had completed the whole process, it would’ve performed real well.”
Before they could begin building anything, the scouts were required to visit 10 different stations to purchase permits.
“At each one of those stations they’re getting facts about those permits,” Porter said. “They get to learn about the different careers in those fields as they’re going through it.”
“Once they get their 10 permits, they have to go to a city administrator to get their building permit, and from there they have to visit the surveyor, who guides them to their plot of land,” said Jennifer Faguett, an adult leader with Pack 101, playing the role of a city administrator. “This process helps give them an idea of how much planning it takes to build something.”
Regardless of how the bridges or buildings performed during the judging and structural testing, the event is about having fun while learning important leadership skills.
“The entire Boy Scouts of America organization is a leadership development program, and the purpose of all of this is to put the boys into situations where they have to work together to succeed,” said Ed Caldwell, the scout executive and chief executive officer for the Erie Shores Council. “This event teaches them leadership skills by teaching them to work together to develop a plan and take it all the way from the design to completion.”
“There’s art involved and there’s science involved,” Porter said. “It really is an all-encompassing program. It’s educational, but they don’t realize it. They’re just having fun. They’re working together in teams and they’re having to problem solve.”
Kyle Beckett, a Cub Scout with Pack 3233, said the most important thing he learned was how to use triangles to stabilize tall structures. Pack 3233 built a 30-foot tall replica of the Washington Monument which almost reached the ceiling of the hangar.
Dominick Davis, another Cub Scout with Pack 3233, said the most challenging part of building the monument was setting the blocks into place. The monument was made of stacked blocks of cardboard. The adults picked up the monument as the scouts placed the next block in the tower beneath it for every 3-foot block.
After all the bridges were tested and all the buildings had been judged, the scouts moved on to the final stage of the event, and arguably the most entertaining part for everyone involved, the demolition. The scouts descended on their cardboard creations with the ferocity of a barbarian horde collapsing bridges and toppling towers. After the last structure was demolished, they gathered their tools and cleared away the debris, leaving the hangar cleaner than they found it, as if they had never been there at all.