ECU construction management students compete at Blockfest

From left, East Carolina University construction management students Nick Robinson, Trevor Keen and Davis Owens stand with first-place certificates next to the fire pit they built during Blockfest. Fellow team member Ryan Gasparek was unavailable during the awards ceremony. (Photo by Ken Buday)

Stacked bricks in various shapes, sizes and colors greeted the competitors. But after just a couple of hours, construction management students at East Carolina University had turned those bricks into benches, fire pits, retaining walls and stairs.

Blockfest featured teams of students turning their designs into tangible products in front of the high bay labs in the Science and Technology Building. In the end, the team of Nick Robinson, Trevor Keen, Davis Owens and Ryan Gasparek took first place and a $250 prize.

“We didn’t expect it,” said Robinson, a junior from Four Oaks. “We thought we would be able to compete. We put a lot of hard work into making sure we were ready for it.”

The team’s fire pit included a staggered design with inner colored bricks that judges said put them over the top.

“Balancing the inner blocks was the hardest part and making everything level,” said Keen, a junior from Clayton. “We realized every little detail counts. That was very important for us.”

The pandemic had put the annual event on hold, but Jay Pittman, teaching instructor in the Department of Construction Management, was glad the competition could be brought back.

“It’s a great thing primarily because the students get the opportunity to do something face-to-face and hands on,” he said.

Pittman said the students get a lot out of the competition.

“Even though they are going to be on the management side of the industry, it’s very helpful that they get an opportunity to do something hands on,” he said. “It brings some definition to what they’re going to be seeing digitally like schedules, budget estimates and other things of that nature. It gives them an opportunity to plan a job. It starts with a concept sketch and then they do a quantity estimate on how many units they are going to need to build it. This is like a mock build if you were looking to do something like this for real.”

Pittman said the event also allows students to talk to industry representatives who judge the competition as well as management from event sponsor Oldcastle APG. Those conversations could lead to internships or even job offers.

“It creates an opportunity, and that’s what I really appreciate about these types of events,” Pittman said.

Angelo Marc, a sophomore from New Bern, works on leveling cement blocks as he helps build a retaining wall as part of Blockfest. (Photo by Rhett Butler)

Robert Carmody, architectural products manager at Oldcastle, said it’s important for the company to develop a relationship with the future construction leaders in the industry.

“These construction management students, they’re all going to be working for all these general contractors. They’ll remember masonry. That’s the biggest thing,” he said. “We want the students to understand that masonry is still a viable craft and product. Our company does precast, metal, glass and all that stuff, but we want to make sure the students are exposed to all of our products.”

The rules of the competition allowed the students to create almost anything they wanted from the bricks, but it had to fit into a square area and could not exceed more than four feet in height. The judges looked for innovative designs as well as structural integrity.

Angelo Marc, a sophomore from New Bern, and his fellow team members constructed a brick fencing wall for the competition.

“I do projects in my backyard a lot, so I just came up with it,” he said of the wall that took third place in the competition.

Next to Marc’s team, Georgia Dawson and her group built a unique set of brick steps that took second place.

“It’s a pretty basic design, but we used the colored bricks to make a checker-board pattern, and it’s striped on the back to give it some color,” said Dawson, a sophomore from Cove City.

Joey Berini, left, Jake Ridge and Georgia Dawson participate in ECU’s Blockfest. (Photo by Rhett Butler)

Dawson described one major roadblock in bringing the team’s design to life — an uneven sidewalk on which to build.

“I don’t know how old the sidewalk is, but it looks like it’s been here awhile, so it’s probably taken a beating so it’s unlevel to start,” Dawson said. “Once you get the first layer and start adding on to it, you find out you’re a little bit off here and there. For the most part though, it’s pretty sturdy.”

Robert Lipscomb, a freshman from Kings Mountain, said his team decided a normal fire pit would not be good enough for the competition.

“We have a typical fire pit, but I had the idea: Why don’t we have two in one, so we added a grill just in case you want to cook something on top,” he said.

The team included a display of firewood in its design as part of an effort to impress the judges with some curb appeal.

“It’s a competition, so anything that gives us a little edge, that’s beneficial,” Lipscomb said.

Though the team didn’t win, Lipscomb said he enjoyed the competition and is looking forward to the next one.

“It’s pretty great,” he said of the event. “This is my first experience, and I’ve loved it.”

From left, Robert Lipscomb, Mackenzie Turner and Jocelyn Espino work on their fire pit. (Photo by Rhett Butler)