Central builds community connections

Sarah Elaine Kaufman

By Sarah Kaufman 

Visitors to Wintergreen Woods in Wethersfield can now access more areas of the park thanks to a gift to the town from Central Connecticut State University’s Department of Civil Engineering. 

During the spring semester, students collaborated with town officials on the design and construction of a timber bridge for the park.  

Engineering professor Dr. Bin (Brenda) Zhou welcomed town officials to the campus for a ceremony to load the bridge onto a flatbed truck so it could be taken to Wethersfield. In addition to workers from the town, Central staff and student interns from Facilities Management were on hand to assist with the transfer and transport. 

In welcoming the group, Zhou noted, “This bridge was built by four Civil Engineering seniors in the spring of 2023. Dr. (Young) Sohn and I are the faculty advisors to this team, and we have the town in full support of the design and the placement of this bridge. We also have a big crew from Central to witness this moment to celebrate how Central students can utilize their engineering skills and knowledge to help the local community.” 

Wethersfield Town Manager Frederick J. Presley said the bridge project was on the town’s capital improvement wish list for years. 

“When the Central students reached out to the town with their proposal to build a bridge for us, it was our first thought to accept,” Presley said. “This bridge provides safe access over the spillway for everyone walking the trails in Wintergreen Woods.” 

Presley said the park is popular with walkers and hikers. The high school cross-country team also uses it as a part of its training route.  

Working with the Central students was a great experience for the town, Presley said.  

“They listened to our input about the type of bridge and materials and did research to make sure everything would meet town standards," he said. “We are thrilled to have the bridge in Wintergreen Woods. The students were very professional and a joy to work with.” 

Zhou said Central has designed and constructed timber bridges for local communities since 2018. She originally started the project with five female Civil Engineering students in their senior year.  

“(In 2018), I was their faculty advisor and we decided to donate the bridge to a local community at the beginning of their capstone project. The students reached out to a few nearby towns, and Berlin was willing to accept our donation,” Dr. Zhou said.  

The group also entered the project in the National Timber Bridge Design Competition and won second place in the Most Aesthetic Design category. 

The projects became a regular feature of the program and, in turn, fulfilled a need for local municipalities that had projects placed on hold during the pandemic. 

“In 2022, I told the Civil Engineering graduating seniors that a timber bridge can be a very meaningful capstone project,” Zhou said. “I teamed up with Dr. Sohn, who is a structural engineer, to supervise this year’s team.  One student, Nicholas Lee, talked with his own town’s engineer who later met with the team virtually and decided to move forward with this project. “ 

Central Facilities Management intern Tuckerman Wink said he appreciated being part of the project to deliver the bridge to the town park. 

“It was great meeting with many of the Wethersfield town workers and learning about their roles improving and maintaining the town,” Wink said. “A project like this may seem simple, but it still has many moving parts. It can go very smoothly with proper planning, preparation, and communication between everyone involved.” 

Wink said the project is an example of the ways Central students can make a difference in the community even before they graduate. 

“It is definitely inspiring hearing the appreciation from the community members. They have wanted a solution to the difficult water crossing for years and they were very happy with the bridge,” he said. “I am confident this bridge will get plenty of use and it really feels like a thoughtful gift to the community.” 

Go behind the scenes of the timber bridge project on Youtube.