Pre-Pandemic Photo of EWB-USA USC Chapter Members at the San Bernardino Initial Assessment Trip

Since the fall of 2019, the EWB-USA USC Chapter’s San Bernardino project team has been diligently working on creating a master planning document for the NormRose Believe Academy, a K-12 school intended to help students with learning disabilities and at-risk behavior reach their full learning potential. 

The domestic project team has been working closely with Dr. La Theia Black, who is taking the initiative to create this school in the San Bernardino community. Our project leads, Maria Reed and Cynthia Ionova, meet frequently with Dr. Black to discuss the project team’s work on the planning document, as well as to assess the feasibility of the different features Dr. Black envisioned for the school. 

Over the past two years, the San Bernardino project team has worked on developing the school’s master planning document, a process that has involved learning about everything from building codes to parking lot guidelines and regulations (did you know that there are minimum tree/shrubbery requirements for parking lots?). With help from their mentor, Jeff, an experienced engineer from the American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE), the team has been navigating the various rules and regulations for building construction. In addition to the challenge of adhering to state guidelines, the domestic project team was also faced with the task of integrating all of the buildings and facilities needed for a school into an oddly-shaped plot. 

Google Maps View of the Plot Area for the School

As you can see, the plot is not only triangular but is also bordered on one end by a railroad and has private properties cutting into the area as well. In other words, it was definitely not a walk in the park for project team members to fit a parking lot, gymnasium, cafeteria, multiple classrooms, an administrative office, and much, much more into the irregular plot area while also taking into consideration the building and safety guidelines mandated by the city and state. However, after many meetings with the team, Dr. Black, and Jeff (and a lot of research), the team was able to create a design that encompassed many of the features Dr. Black desired for the school while also upholding building, safety, and accessibility standards.

Potential CAD Design for the School’s Primary Buildings

According to Maria, one of the project leads, the team is now wrapping up, finalizing design plans, organizing utilities and main buildings onto the same document, and working on developing alternatives in order to accommodate more of Dr. Black’s desired features for the school. In the next couple of weeks, the team will be splitting off into two groups: one to write and submit the final report for the domestic project, and the other to start the transition to our upcoming international project in Malawi!

With that in mind, I asked the project leads to reflect a little bit on the domestic project, as they have been working on it since it began and are now seeing it to a close. When asked what their favorite part of the project was, both Cynthia and Maria immediately said “the people!” The San Bernardino project (and the EWB-USA USC Chapter in general) is super collaborative, and members grow very close through the process of working together and bouncing ideas off of each other in the team’s weekly meetings. It is wonderful to have a group of individuals who are so passionate about the project, and their enthusiasm is palpable in every meeting. 

Team Members Discussing a Prospective CAD Design at their Weekly Meeting

Another cool aspect of the San Bernardino project, in Cynthia’s words, is “learning outside of your comfort zone!” Over the course of this project, members have found themselves delving into topics that they might not have had any experience with before. Cynthia, for example, reflected on her experience with learning about building codes, which she never would have explored in her chemical engineering classes. Maria echoed this sentiment, also adding that learning how to solve real-world engineering problems and “seeing a school design come out of it” is an amazing opportunity that the San Bernardino project provided. 

The San Bernardino team and the EWB-USA USC Chapter are eagerly looking forward to the conclusion of this project and the future construction of the NormRose Believe Academy, a school that I am sure will have sentimental value for all of the domestic team members. Moving forward, the domestic team is extremely excited to transition to an international project in a community in Malawi: designing and building latrines and teaching community members how to build them themselves!

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