CVTC Installs Teaching Sculpture

CVTC’s steel teaching sculpture was installed on the grounds of its Energy Education Center last week. (Photo courtesy of Merrill Steel) 

Chippewa Valley Technical College (CVTC) in Eau Claire, Wis., installed a 1.5-ton steel teaching sculpture on the grounds of its Energy Education Center last week. The sculpture, standing nine feet tall and eight feet deep and wide, consists of a series of galvanized steel beams connected in varying angles with varying connection methods.

“The sculpture shows the different ways steel beams can be joined, along with different welds and fasteners,” said Al Spaeth, program director of CVTC’s Architectural Structural Design program. “It will help students visualize the connections they are learning about in the classroom.”

“These sculptures were created for their instructional value,” said Keith Vesperman, an instructor in the program. “The first one was in Gainesville, Florida in 1986. Our students were asking for one because they were having trouble visualizing the connections.”

Students first approached Spaeth about a sculpture in 2006, when the program, then called Civil Engineering, was located at the Business Education Center. However, logistics problems prevented the placement of a sculpture there. When the program moved to the Energy Education Center this year, CVTC President Bruce Barker gave the go-ahead to pursue the project.

Spaeth and Vesperman worked through the program’s advisory committee and the CVTC Foundation to secure donations. The steel fabrication was donated by Merrill Steel of Schofield, Wis. (an AISC member and certified fabricator).

“We hire exclusively out of CVTC’s program for our steel detailing group,” said James Meaden, detailing and document control manager for Merrill Steel. “We have about 12 CVTC graduates and try to hire one or two from each graduating class.”

Meaden said he approached the company’s three principal owners. “They were all on board in providing a teaching opportunity to the school,” he said.

Merrill Steel donated and fabricated the steel and handed it off to AZZ Galvanizing in Winsted, Minn. (an AISC member) which donated its galvanizing services. Then Merrill assembled the parts according to an engineered design based on model designs from AISC. Harris Rebar donated materials for the concrete base and Evan Berglund of Krech Ojard provided engineering review services.

Vesperman noted that there are dozens of different steel members, weld groups and connection elements used in steel construction, and while the sculpture doesn’t feature them all, it has the ones most commonly used. “We will absolutely be going outside as a whole class to look at the examples,” he said.

“And students will be walking by it every day and can look at it on their own,” Spaeth added.

Maeden said fabricated steel usually costs about $3,000 a ton. Considering the number of small pieces involved and all of the other donated labor that went into the sculpture, the total project is worth about $14,000, he added.

However, all materials and labor were donated through the CVTC Foundation, Inc.

“This is a wonderful example of how in-kind contributions can directly enhance learning opportunities for students,” said Aliesha Crowe, executive director of the Foundation. “We are grateful to our partners at Merrill Steel and other companies who contributed to this project that is a valuable addition to the Energy Education Center grounds and to CVTC’s instructional resources.”

There are currently more than 170 such teaching sculptures at colleges and universities around the U.S. Most are outside engineering schools at major universities, but there are a few at community and technical colleges. CVTC’s sculpture is the first at a technical college in Wisconsin.

For more about the AISC steel sculpture, including a list of school locations and information on having one constructed on your campus, visit