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Elise Brokaw (left) and Becca Metzler (right), both 3 years old, draw on the chalkboards created by Russ College civil engineering students out of recalled cribs.

Photographer: Rebecca F. Miller

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Joe Cook, a senior civil engineering student, cuts into a piece of a recalled crib that will be made into one of several designs to repurpose recalled cribs.

Photographer: Rebecca F. Miller

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Cassius, 18 months, enjoys playing in the sensory tunnel.

Photographer: Rebecca F. Miller

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Civil engineering students make child’s play of crib upcycling project


Civil engineering students at Ohio University's Fritz J. and Dolores H. Russ College of Engineering and Technology recently joined forces with the Ohio University Child Development Center (CDC) to repurpose baby cribs that were headed to a landfill.

The CDC was facing having to put sixteen drop-side cribs out of use after they were recalled by the National Consumer Product Safety Commissionfor not meeting new safety requirements. But Russ College Assistant Professor of Civil Engineering Deborah McAvoy, who is a parent of a toddler enrolled at the CDC and a member of the Parent Advisory Board, suggested at a board meeting that instead of tossing the cribs, her students could repurpose them into something new.

"We have students who complete community service projects, and I was sure they would be interested in something local," she said. "When I mentioned it to them, they were very excited to reuse the cribs and turn them into something fun for the children."

Junior Sarah Koska, community service coordinator for the student chapter of the American Society of Civil Engineers, said the group wanted to help the CDC avoid throwing away hundreds of dollars. "So we came up with multiple creative ways to reuse the cribs and implement them back into the fun and learning of the children -- we made two art easels with chalk surfaces, and also two sensory tunnels," she said.

The sensory tunnels, formed from crib sides joined to create a tunnel when placed on the floor, can be hung with soft, rough, furry, or bumpy objects such as fabric and ribbon. The children lie under or crawl through the tunnels to experience the different surfaces. On a recent spring day, the tunnels were set up outside for children to enjoy.

"We were at a loss and very frustrated at what to do with 16 beautiful wooden cribs that could not be sold, donated or given away," said CDC Director Cathy Waller. "We certainly did not want to contribute to the overflowing landfills, as we try and be very conscious about sustainability issues. We are just beyond thrilled," she added.

According to Russ College Dean Dennis Irwin, the students' work plays a strong role in their education to become what he calls meta-engineers. "Our goal is to develop students who are aware of the societal opportunities for, and implications of, their specialized skills, and who can lead impactful and lasting efforts because of that," he said. "They have created for good by volunteering to improve the lives of children in their own community, and also by demonstrating sustainability," he said.

Koska explained that ASCE members commit to a community service project every semester. Students have planned still other designs for play tents, private play spaces, desks, a ball pit, and a climbing play set in order to provide a steady flow of new toys for the CDC throughout the rest of this summer and into next fall.

Colleen Carow and Adrienne Cornwall contributed to this story.