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Students Build Water System, Community Connection

A nonprofit transitional home for women and children now has a new irrigation system, thanks to engineering students from LMU.

The student volunteers spent several weeks this summer helping to design and install a gray water filtration system at the Alexandria House, a home near the Koreatown neighborhood. The home offers financial management, childcare, counseling, health care and access to other resources to women with children who are in need.

Led by students Shawn Rios ’14 and Alejandra Alarcon ’14, and guided by Jeremy Pal, associate professor of civil engineering, 35 LMU volunteers, including members of Program for an Engineering Education Community, took eight weeks to complete the project. That included trenching, cutting the pipes, laying the pipes, refilling the trenches and re-sodding the yard.

“This was more than an engineering project,” said Alarcon, a Spanish and Chicana/o Studies double major. “This was an opportunity to be of service and get involved in the community.” 

The students designed and installed a pump system to take wastewater from the washing machine at the back of the house to the front yard, where it would irrigate the lawn. For this phase the LMU group relied on the expertise of Environmental Engineering & Contracting Inc. of Santa Ana, which donated their time and labor.

But the hardest part of the project, said Rios, a civil engineering major, was the trenching. It took crews three weekends to complete the network of 6-inch deep trenches for the pipes. Many of those rows had to be dug by hand in order to avoid damaging the roots of nearby trees.

Still, students appreciated the lesson that physical labor taught them. “The chance to apply what we learned in class in a real community setting was incredible,” Rios said.

The project was funded by a Riordan Community Action Grant, along with donations of the water filter by Water Wise Group, the PVC and XFS piping by Rainbird Corp., and the rental of the machine to dig out part of the trenches.   

LMU engineers have used Alexandria House as a laboratory before: in spring 2011, students designed and built a modern swing set for the children. Next, students plan to install solar panels for electricity, and consider other small projects to maintain the relationship between LMU and the home.