It sounds like a question on a college entrance exam:
If you have 10,000 cans of green beans and you want to use them to create an 18-tier tree, how large would the base have to be?
Students from the Architecture, Construction and Engineering (ACE) charter high school in Camarillo figured it out, and on Thursday, Dec. 6, with some muscle provided by Naval Base Ventura County (NBVC), they built the tree at The Collection, a new shopping center in Oxnard.
A few days later, they helped take the tree apart so the cans could be taken to Food Share, Ventura County’s food bank, for families needing food this holiday season.
As one Sailor put it, “That’s a lot of Green Bean Surprise.”
The Air Operations ground electronics crew at NBVC Point Mugu sent about a dozen Sailors to help with the project.
“I think this is outstanding,” said Electronics Technician 1st Class Daniel Oertel, the leading petty officer in charge. “It’s not often we can be involved in a project that helps the community and also shows everyone the Navy is out here doing things like this.”
The students, led by construction technology instructor Gary Clifford and math teacher Ian McGwire, had everything in hand right from the start. About 30 of them were involved in the actual construction — 90 had worked on at least a part of the design over the previous three weeks — and, except for a short lunch break, they spent six hours drilling, stacking and leveling the massive structure.
“The project involved a lot of geometry and algebra,” Clifford said.
At one point during construction, Electronics Technician 2nd Class Josh Lampel explained how to calculate the volume.
“A quadratic equation integrated and rotated around a y-axis would give you the volume,” he said.
“Really,” he said, “it’s simple calculus.”
The students had used AutoCAD, computer-aided design software, to come up with the construction format. They calculated the size of each tier and what the base should look like to support 5 tons.
They also had to solve some problems on site, like the fact that the sidewalk they were building it on had a 3-degree slope for drainage. They had to slide pieces of wood underneath the base to level it out before they could begin stacking the cans.
It took them about an hour to get the base together. By their lunch break at noon, the tree was more than halfway done, and around 2 p.m., senior Manny Gomez and junior Jenny Raya attached the lightweight decorative top made of empty green pea cans.
The Sailors noticed no one had brought lights, so they pooled their money, went to the nearby Target and came back with a spool that could be strung around the tree.
McGwire said a hands-on project like this can bring out the best in a teenager.
“The power and confidence these kids are showing right now is unbelievable,” he said. “They’re working together, and they’re taking pride in their work.”
Monica James, NBVC’s school liaison officer, said the project gave the Sailors a chance to share teamwork and construction skills.
“This is such a great project!” she said as she watched the students and Sailors working side by side.
Electronics Technician 1st Class Angela McCallister said the students’ hard work kept the Navy’s involvement to a minimum, but the Sailors were able to share at least one important lesson.
“We organized a working party to unload the cans,” she explained.
The students had each been walking up to the cargo area, grabbing a box of cans and carrying it back to the tree. The Sailors showed them how to form a human chain to make the work safer and more efficient.
“They understood immediately,” McAllister said. “They dove right in and were enthusiastic about it.”
Leticia Wilson, marketing director for The Collection, was thrilled with the final outcome.
“Maybe,” she said, “we’ll make this an annual event.”