Note to editors/producers: The engineering students will be working on the steps of Mound B from about 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturday, Feb. 6 and 13. Reporters are welcome to visit the site and take photos or shoot video, as well as interview the students and park staff. Reporters, videographers and photographers are required to wear thick pants, preferably jeans, that cover the ankles, and closed-toe shoes with backs/heels. Hard hats and safety goggles will be provided, if needed. If you would like to visit the site either weekend, please contact Kim Eaton, UA Media Relations, at 205/348-8325 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
TUSCALOOSA, Ala. — The steps of Alabama’s tallest mound are getting a much-needed makeover, thanks to a group of University of Alabama engineering students.
The Mound B steps at Moundville Archaeological Park were built by Jim Caldwell and two park staff members in 1967. Although the work took several months to complete, the steps lasted for nearly 50 years. But time and wear and tear from the thousands of people who climb those steps every year took its toll, and the steps had fallen into disrepair.
“Early in 2015, inspection of the steps determined them to be increasingly unsafe,” said Betsy Irwin, education outreach coordinator for the park. “Further, so many of the railroad ties were damaged that we decided to aim for replacing the steps rather than trying to fix them. The park already had a supply of railroad ties sufficient to replace the steps. What we didn’t have was the staffing, time or money to complete the work.”
In stepped UA’s Student Engineers in Action. The group of engineering students had been involved in several service projects at the park for the past couple of years, the first of which was clearing overgrowth at the front of Mound B in the fall of 2014. From there, the group visited the park and put together a list of projects. Replacing the Mound B steps was at the top of that list, said Elizabeth Douglas, the SEA Moundville project manager.
“The steps were rotting and uneven, and there’s no handrail,” she said. “It’s also really steep because of the slope of the mound, so it’s difficult to walk up them.”
For the past four or five months, the students had researched and put together a rough draft for replacing the steps. The students worked with Tim Leopard, Joe Cobb and Richard Powell with UA Facilities as well as Irwin and Matt Gage, the Office of Archaeological Research director. They established a plan, found equipment and set dates for the work to begin. The students removed the steps at the end of January and will now spend the next three to four weekends rebuilding them, Douglas said.
“This is a great project. First, freshmen get to get off campus,” she said. “Second, we get to visit a beautiful park. Third, students can earn community service hours. For me, I enjoy doing things and being active and social and this project does both.”
In addition to earning service hours and getting off campus, the students are gaining real-world experience that will be of benefit to them in their careers.
“Moundville is the University of Alabama, and involving students in every aspect of what we do is of major importance to the park,” Gage said. “These engineering students, particularly the civil and environmental engineering students, are going to be entering jobs where cultural resources are a major part of the permitting process they will be dealing with. Giving them a sense of appreciation for historic properties with significant cultural heritage provides them a leg up on students coming out of other schools that don’t have a World Heritage-eligible site like Moundville.”
The University of Alabama, the state’s oldest and largest public institution of higher education, is a student-centered research university that draws the best and brightest to an academic community committed to providing a premier undergraduate and graduate education. UA is dedicated to achieving excellence in scholarship, collaboration and intellectual engagement; providing public outreach and service to the state of Alabama and the nation; and nurturing a campus environment that fosters collegiality, respect and inclusivity.