The Trinidad leg of this competition has been hosted for the last four years by the Caribbean Division (now Caribbean Regional Group – CRG) of the Institution of Structural Engineers (IStructE) together with the Association of Professional Engineers of Trinidad and Tobago (APETT) and the University of the West Indies (UWI) engineering faculty.
The initial decision to hold the schools bridge building competition was taken during meetings of the CRG during development of plans for the visit of the President of the IStructE to the Caribbean. This visit was undertaken specifically for the 100th anniversary of the Institution.
The President (the first woman President of the Institution in its history) was to visit Jamaica, Barbados and Trinidad and Tobago. Each country was supposed to arrange a schools bridge building competition with prizes to be presented by the president in person.
Only Barbados was able to arrange their competition in time and the competition took place during October 2008.
The first competition in Trinidad was held at the JFK auditorium at UWI in January 2009. Three additional competitions have taken place at the same venue from 2010 to 2012. Further competitions were also held in Barbados while Jamaica put on its first during the IStructE/JIE conference on bridges held in September 2010.
The material used for the bridges of the first competitions was a specified amount of foil paper.
The bridges were then loaded to collapse with one cent coins. The winner was the bridge that carried the greatest load. Later competitions in Trinidad utilised macaroni and “Krazy” glue as being more realistic of bridge construction. Loads were laboratory loads graduated in 100 gramme increments and there was a refinement to the winning specification in that the bridge that achieved the best ratio of load to self weight would be the winner. In addition prizes are now awarded for aesthetics, teamwork and innovation. The structure of the 2012 competition changed from a bridge to a tower.
The aims of the competition are to introduce school students to practical structural engineering, to illustrate the requirement for teamwork, to achieve results with limited resources, to illustrate the requirement for proper planning and to afford students an opportunity to have a fun day.
The students also get opportunities to interact with practising engineers on the day.
Schools have shown tremendous enthusiasm for the competition.
In the Trinidad competition in 2012, 31 schools entered while 30 actually participated. Students came from places as diverse as Debe, Gasparillo, Matura and Princes Town. The committee is hoping that Tobago schools will participate this year for the first time.
Last year the winning school was Cowen Hamilton Secondary School followed by Presentation College, Chaguanas.
Holy Faith Convent, Couva placed third and also picked up the first prize for innovation. La Romaine Secondary School came out tops for aesthetics, followed by Waterloo Secondary School in second place with Princes Town West Secondary/ASJA Girls College, San Fernando placing third. The girls fared best in the teamwork category, with St Augustine Girls High School and St Joseph’s Convent, St Joseph taking the first two spots, and Iere High School claiming the third.