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Bradley students bring neighborhood playground to life

The playground has been worked on by not just Bradley students but by members of the community as well. Photo by Hernan Gutierrez.

The Moss-Bradley neighborhood is a hodgepodge of college students, staff, non-Bradley affiliated-locals and two elementary schools. This community came together to bring some schoolyard renovations while giving Bradley students real-world experience.

Over the last year and a half, the Whittier Primary Parent Teacher Organization (PTO) teamed up with Bradley’s department of civil engineering and construction to plan and build a new playground for the school.

Whittier’s PTO received funding through donations and corporate grants from companies like Walmart and CEFCU. The idea to team up with the engineering program came out of the work it did for Kellar Primary, another Peoria Public School.

The project was a part of the department’s curriculum this semester in various classes. Civil engineering and construction professor Souhail Elhouar organized students, splitting them up into nine different groups, each with a student leader. 

Elhouar said the project gave his students hands-on experience and hopes it has a bigger impact on the students.

“Especially being such a close place to Bradley, this is something they’ll be able to see almost on a daily basis,” Elhour said. “They’ll see the kids having fun, they’ll see the kids playing. I’m sure they’ll have a feeling of pride and accomplishment.”

Over the weekend of April 17 and 18, students and PTO volunteers did most of the work to build the playground by digging up the old dirt, laying the new dirt down and putting the playground’s pieces together.

The group ran into problems digging at first, as they found more bricks and concrete than expected below the old playground. However, according to Elhouar this taught his students that sometimes what is planned can differ once they get out in the field.

“Sometimes you get into the field and get things that you did not expect,” Elhouar said. “So, we had to dig around and dig by hand. We were supposed to have the holes dug last week with an auger but an auger can’t really go through [bricks and concrete].”

The department also reached out to students across various disciplines in the engineering clubs on campus, such as Bradley’s chapters of the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers and the American Society of Civil Engineers.

Senior manufacturing engineering major, Garrett Dominy, said while the project was outside of his branch of engineering, the experience was still valuable.

“What being an engineer is about is getting your hands on and just building something,” Dominy said. “You’re using tools and you’re using your brain … any type of engineer can get together and use their brains to figure out a problem.”

With Bradley in its backyard, Whittier administrators were glad to continue the tradition of the university helping out in the school district. Whittier principal Julie Deignan said she enjoys how committed the neighborhood is to the school.

“We love our partnership with Bradley and with the community,” Deignan said. “It makes our building so special … Everyone coming together is such a beautiful thing.”

According to Deignan, upon completion, the new playground will be the largest in the Peoria Public Schools district.

As the project wraps up, Dominy recalled his time as a child in school. Growing up in the area, he was more than happy to help the neighborhood school.

“I got excited because I was a little trouble-maker kid when I was younger,” Dominy said. “A good way to let off steam was at the playground.”

Whittier students will soon be able to use the new playground as the group plans to wrap up construction over the weekend of May 1.

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