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Guilderland Archives — The Altamont Enterprise, January 21, 2010

Finishes second in region
FMS team designs Future City that makes homes for the homeless

By Melissa Hale-Spencer

GUILDERLAND — The earthquake hadn’t hit Haiti when the students at Farnsworth Middle School designed a Future City that would help provide housing for survivors of such a disaster.

The National Engineers Week Future City Competition has middle-school students, starting in September, create cities using SimCity software and then build tabletop models, using recycled materials that cost not more than a hundred dollars. Students write essays about their cities and then explain and defend them before a panel of judges.

Eighteen teams from 17 schools competed Saturday at Hudson Valley Community College for the regional title. Holy Spirit School won and will now compete in Washington, D.C. Farnsworth, after four years of winning first place, came in second.

“We went in expecting to win,” said Thomas McGreevy, a technology education teacher at Farnsworth who advised the team along with science teacher Richard Lasselle and engineer mentor Robert Sipzner. “We had a great model and a great team. Our entry this year in many ways was better than last year.” Two years ago, the Farnsworth team came in second nationwide.

“But the other team did a better job,” McGreevy said of the Holy Spirit School. “Our kids accepted that. It’s part of competition. They handled it well.”

Farnsworth students named their city Kespe’kewaq, one of the seven districts of the Mi’kmaq people’s homeland, located in Nova Scotia, where the Future City is sited. While some of the cities on display Saturday looked like they were built in paradise, Kespe’kewaq was located in an area of high unemployment.

“The students used modular buildings,” said McGreevy.

One of Kespe’kewaq’s prime industries is “manufacturing temporary structures that could be shipped right now to Haiti, or any place hit with a disaster,” said McGreevy. “The housing would be recyclable, so it could be refurbished.”

Innovation  honored

Farnsworth won two awards in Saturday’s competition. One was for the most innovative moving part.

The Farnsworth model had three moving parts. David Lasselle invented a paddle wheel that was turned by water. There was also a windmill made out of a toothbrush.

“It was my toothbrush,” said McGreevy.

And Joe Sipzner made a moveable bridge for pedestrians. “It could rotate at high tide, so ships could go underneath it,” said McGreevy.

The Farnsworth team also won an award for having the most innovative infrastructure design.

McGreevy said the model featured a “self-healing roadway,” meaning the material from which the road was made could regenerate itself. Kespe’kewaq also featured “a tie-in of walkways through parks,” he said.

Transportation included an airship system for both freight and people, a high-speed rail system — 400 miles per hour — using magnetic levitation, and computer operated SmarTravel.

Part of the presentation included Farnsworth student Matt Gu, sporting a necktie with the Olympic flame, posing as a representative for the 2170 Winter Olympic Games to determine if Kespe’kewaq was a suitable site.

Gu was one of three presenters. The others were Cody Ingraham and David Lasselle. “We had try-outs for the presenters this year,” said McGreevy.

The Farnsworth team had a dozen members this year with just one girl — Annie Walsh. “I called her my straw boss,” said McGreevy. “She made sure assignments were carried out.”

McGreevy described the Farnsworth presentation as “professional.” The three boys all were dressed in crisp shirts and neckties.

“These kids in high school will be a lot less nervous talking to the whole class,” said McGreevy.

He went on about working on the Future City project, “It’s just a great experience for the kids. It gets them to think about real problems and to come up with solutions. It gets them to imagine what it’s like to be an engineer.”

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