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Plum students take learning underground during connector trip

| Thursday, April 8, 2010

Steve Grise has taken a full range of technical education classes during his four years at Plum Senior High School.

So when Grise, 18, got a chance to take what he has learned and apply it in a real-life setting, he jumped at it.

Grise joined a dozen other Plum students who recently took a tour of the subway tunnel that is part of the North Shore Connector project.

"Going down into the tunnel was the best part," Grise said. "I've always enjoyed working with my hands, so it was the most reasonable place to go."

The $435 million North Shore Connector will extend Port Authority's Light Rail Transit System -- the T -- 1.2 miles from the Gateway Subway Station underneath Stanwix Street and the Allegheny River, in twin-bored tunnels below the river, to the North Shore.

The project is expected to be completed in 2011.

Dan Kiefer, who works for Massaro Construction Management Services, arranged for the students to take the trip.

Kiefer, 45, of Murrysville is a member of the Construction Management Association of America. Kiefer said another member and friend, Tom Carey, works for Trumbull Corp. The North Shore Connector is one of Trumbull's projects. Kiefer worked with Carey to make the trip happen.

"Personally, I believe there is a tremendous amount of value in having students spend time in the field to augment what they learn in the classroom," said Kiefer, who teaches architectural design at the University of Pittsburgh.

Martin Griffith, technical education teacher at Plum High School, said the trip, which included a PowerPoint presentation and a tour of the tunnel that passes under the Allegheny River from the North Shore to the Golden Triangle, was an invaluable experience for the students, many of whom are aspiring engineers.

Griffith, 42, of Charleroi said the project engineers talked about the decision to build the subway underground instead of above ground.

"They talked about how if it was above ground they would have had to acquire land," Griffith said. "And they talked about the process, engineering and equipment used."

Griffith said the engineers discussed the obstacles they had to overcome underground, including working around the water table.

"The biggest benefit was understanding the grand undertaking for such a large project and the number of workers and engineers needed," Griffith said.

Griffith and the students were most impressed by the walking tour of the subway.

"It was overwhelming," Griffith said.

Jessica McDade, 16, a sophomore, said she was most impressed to see how the engineers were able to build a tunnel under water.

"I had heard about it, but it was cool to see," said McDade, who is interested in becoming a civil engineer.

Grise, who wants to become a police officer, said the most interesting part was learning how workers got concrete down into the tunnel to construct the walls of the subway.

Grise hopes to ride the subway after it is completed.

"I'll be able to say I walked through it," Grise said.

Kiefer said the experience was educational not only for the students but for him, too.

"Physically, to go into the actual tunnel and experience the space at ground zero was interesting," Kiefer said. "It was a good experience to smell the concrete in the air and hear the echo at ground zero with the rebar and cranes above. And when we came out of the tunnel 30 feet below grade and looked at the Pittsburgh skyline, it was pretty intense.

"I've been in construction for 20 years, and I felt like a kid in a candy store."

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