Engineering Hawks win Sixth Annual Gateway Arch Engineering


Contributing writer

They participated in the Sixth Annual Gateway Arch Engineering Competition, sponsored by Washington University. Gibault’s team was the only team from Illinois. Teams from Gibault have participated in five years of the competition, placing second or third. This is the first year they won.

“The challenge each year usually involved the Gateway Arch,” says Arron Martel, who has taught physics and chemistry for eight years at Gibault, “but this year the project was an issue at the historic Old Saint Louis Courthouse, which is currently closed for several years undergoing a major renovation.”

The building, when open, is visited by about 300,000 visitors per year, but it does not presently include an ADA-compliant method of transportation to the second floor.

“Because it is an historic structure and because it was constructed by master craftsmen 160 years ago, building a modern ADA compliant elevator raises many engineering and architectural difficulties,” Martel explains.

The competitors this year were Christian Brothers College High School (CBC), St. Louis University High School and Troy Buchanan High School. CBC was the defending champion.

Contest issues from the past include making the Arch trams accessible, flooding problems on the Arch grounds, and the ramps from the river to the Arch were too long and steep.

According to the contest coordinator, Tony Gilpin from the National Park Service, in an email to Martel, “This was the most difficult problem we have had in the competition, and the competing ideas were all very good. I believe it was the hardest fought battle we have had in the program’s six years.”

He adds, “Make sure everyone at Gibault knows just how hard this competition is to win and how you and your men put in the work.”

The teams received the contest project information in September. The students from Gibault visited the Old Courthouse on Sept. 28 for research.

Executive summaries were due Nov. 4, and 15-minute presentations were made to four engineers who were judges and the event sponsors on Nov. 12. The other teams also listened to the presentations.

The Gibault team worked on the project during their honors physics class and not as an extracurricular activity.

The team members are Jacob Durrer, 17, of Waterloo; Ben Haney, 17, of Columbia; Nate Nevois, 17, of Waterloo; Andrew Schmoll, 17, of Columbia; and Tyler Wahle, 18, of Columbia.

Each of these seniors is considering pursuing engineering in college.

“The honors physics class fit with my college plans,” Andrew says. “Physics will be a requirement, and this will help to prepare me for the college courses.”

The others agreed.

They also agreed that working on a real-life project like this provided them with real-world, decision-making skills.

“If we had conflicts, we weighed out the best pros and cons,” Tyler says. “We may have argued for a bit, but we would quickly come to a consensus at the end. Five minutes tops.”

Nate adds that for every issue, they did research. “One path had more pros than the others, and we decided to go that way,” he says.

“We made decisions as a group, with a lot of group meetings and discussions about what the best path was to take,” Nate says. “A lot of decisions had to be made around the engineering problem. In the end, we submitted our best solution. Fortunately, our solution turned out to be the best.”

One of the biggest challenges they faced was determining the costs needed for the project.

“It was hard to find data on things like the cost of an elevator,” Jacob says. “It’s such a niche thing, usually priced on a project-by-project basis and not the same for any two projects.”

Ben says they connected with a representative from Schindler Elevator Co. “She was super helpful and gave us professional estimates and the numbers we needed for the presentation.”

In brief, the team determined the best solution for the historic courthouse was a traction-driven machine room-less (MRL) elevator. An MRL elevator’s mechanism is located completely above the shaft, eliminating the need for a machine room by design.

This solution will not require as much excavation below the base of the building and will reduce energy consumption by as much as 70-80 percent, compared to a traditional hydraulic solution.

One of the most significant advantages of this elevator system is that it will only require construction on the first two floors of the building and will not involve any drilling into the thick concrete beams below the third floor above the conference room.

When asked about what it was like to give the presentation to the judges, they all agreed they were prepared.

“Gibault provides us many opportunities to take classes that require us to give speeches and presentations. And I took a public speaking class,” Andrew says. “But we spent so much time researching, we really knew our information. It was seamless.”

Jacob admitted it was a bit intimidating being on the stage in front of four judges who were engineers and the other competitors. “But we all felt confident that we knew our information very well. We didn’t need our notecards or supplemental information.”

Nate adds, “It was surreal at first, when we realized we won by three points. Coming into it, our goal was to win. We gave it our all and did our best. We would have been happy with whatever place we received. Knowing we did our very best was the biggest thing.”

Tyler shares they prayed every day before they worked on the project.

“We prayed together before going on the stage for the presentation,” he says, “and I am sure we all said our own quiet prayers, hoping that we do our best and hopefully bring home a trophy.”

“With all competitions like this, you always want to pray going into it,” Nate says. “We prayed that we could do our best out there. We prayed that they wouldn’t ask questions that were too hard. Our prayer and preparation helped us do our best during the competition.”

As their teacher, Martel is proud of this team and its accomplishment.

“Gibault is smaller than the other competitors, who are powerhouses,” he says. “But this win speaks a lot to our testament. Don’t count out the faith-based schools. Just look at what they can do.”