How do you explain pile driving to first graders?

Dan Kulka, the prime contractor’s Public Relations Manager for the I-405 Project, demonstrates how the weight of a bridge must be supported.

Dan Kulka, the prime contractor’s Public Relations Manager for the I-405 Project, demonstrates how the weight of a bridge must be supported.

In late January, three days before nearby pile driving would begin, two members of the I-405 Sepulveda Pass Improvements Project team stood before 35 kindergarten and first-graders to demonstrate how bridges are built.

Using a handmade bridge model, potting soil, chocolate pudding, nails and a glass of water, Kasey Shuda, Wilshire Segment Community Relations Officer, and Dan Kulka, the prime contractor’s Public Relations Manager for the project, demonstrated to children from the Salvation Army’s Bessie Pregerson Child Development Center why construction noise and vibration were nothing to fear.

“I’m in regular communication with the executive staff of the Salvation Army,” Shuda explained. “We send construction notices when we are doing something that affects them, and they call me when they have concerns.”

During one of these conversations, the Pregerson Center staff told Shuda that the children were growing frightened by loud noises in general, perhaps because of the recent demolition of a sound wall west of the school.

Kulka recreates pile driving on a small scale. He used the glass of water to illustrate how pounding creates vibration.

Kulka recreates pile driving on a small scale. He used the glass of water to illustrate how pounding creates vibration.

Kulka — Kiewit Infrastructure West’s public relations point man — proposed visiting the child development center to explain noise and vibration.

Sandra Menendez, director of the Pregerson Center, gave Kulka and Shuda 45 minutes for the presentation. She notes that the I-405 presentation was quite a change from other presentations to students, which tend to deal with subjects such as the importance of teeth-brushing.

The upcoming noise and vibration would emanate from the driving of 18 piles, each 14 inches square and 60 feet long, over the next 2.5 work days. Kulka explained to the curious students that each 60-foot pile was the length of a school bus.

The piles were essential to support the new northbound off-ramp to eastbound Wilshire Boulevard. Driving piles into the ground would occur approximately 180 feet from the classroom. Kulka expected the pile driving would be the loudest work the children would hear during construction of the project.

Using the wooden bridge model he had created in his garage, Kulka showed how the bridge sunk into the potting soil and chocolate pudding concoction without support. He showed how nails would support the bridge and the piles would support the new ramp.

In the interest of safety, Kasey Shuda, Wilshire Segment Community Relations Officer, loans her hard hat to a young bridge engineer.

In the interest of safety, Kasey Shuda, Wilshire Segment Community Relations Officer, loans her hard hat to a young bridge engineer.

“I wanted the children to understand why this work was necessary and what it would sound like and what it would feel like,” Kulka explained. “And we taught them the term ‘pile driving’ so that they could impress their parents.”

The students benefited from accidental entertainment when the bridge flew from the planter holding the soil and pudding. When the bridge landed on the classroom floor, it spilled pudding and elicited spontaneous laughter.

To heighten the realism of their demonstration, Shuda and Kulka drove toy cars across the model bridge.

“Kids were really excited to tell us what does not go on a bridge,” Shuda recalled. “We asked them if elephants or giraffes would go on the bridge. They were very clear that elephants belong in the zoo or the jungle.”

“Dan hammered nails into a piece of wood beside the glass of water so the students would hear noises and see the vibrations,” Shuda explained. “He reproduced the sound as rhythm—like a beat.”

“I’d loved to do more of these,” Kulka insisted. “I would like to do it in other places along the project.”

Hard hats fascinated the students. On the following Monday, the contractor halted pile driving from 12:30pm to 2:30pm so students (and parents) would benefit from undisturbed naptime.

Hard hats fascinated the students. On the following Monday, the contractor halted pile driving from 12:30pm to 2:30pm so students (and parents) would benefit from undisturbed naptime.

Kulka took a more personal memory from the morning event. Two children told him, “You look like a grandpa.” He wasn’t then, but he is now. His daughter Emily gave birth a week later.

On schedule, Kiewit’s subcontractor, Foundation Pile, Inc., drove pile all day Saturday and Monday and Tuesday morning. Because of an agreement between Shuda and Kiewit, pile driving stopped between  12:30 p.m. and 2:30 p.m. on Monday—naptime for the students.

“They did hear pile driving on Monday,” Menendez said. “[Students] saw the crane. They could see it from the play yard. So the teachers reminded them about the demonstration. After the demonstration, Menendez reported, the children were asking questions of their teachers.

“Who knows what engineering and urban planning talents we might have ignited,” Kulka pondered. “We would definitely go back at the end of ramp construction and give them a tour and show them what we had done,” Shuda insisted.