There are lessons to be learned that simply cannot come from a textbook.

Whether the foundational pillars must be placed in a way to protect certain creek species and allow for seasonal flooding, or delays pop up due weather, funding, or smoke conditions, the rebuilding of the Honey Run Covered Bridge has been a prime example that construction doesn’t always go as planned. But as students and faculty partner with a nonprofit and commercial contractor to support the community-driven project, they agree it’s a rewarding lesson in being flexible and innovative to keep a project moving forward.

Construction management major Urbano Romero said he enjoys learning about all the different moving pieces that are part of a construction site, from reading plans to supervising concrete pours to maintaining a safe work environment.

“It is also a great opportunity to get hands-on experience because I can take what I am learning in the classroom and apply it to real life,” he said.

Romero, a junior, originally was drawn to the project because it’s so unique.

“There’s not many people that get to say that they were able to rebuild a part of history,” he said. “Although I was not around when the Camp Fire occurred in 2018, I have seen the impact that it has had on the community. It has been so inspirational to see how this project has moved along with the help and donations that have been given by people in the area. I can only hope that my small contribution can help with the healing of the community.”

A student in a hard hat looks at engineering plans as heavy equipment is used in a bridge rebuild in a canyon behind him.
Construction management major Jacob Hill surveys the work of the next phase of the Honey Run Covered Bridge rebuilding project as concrete foundations begin to be poured in September.

The Honey Run Covered Bridge opened the same year the University was founded—in 1887. When the Camp Fire ravaged Butte County in November 2018, the beloved bridge and its adjacent caretaker home were among the thousands of structures consumed by flames. Amazingly, students in the Computer Animation and Game Department had captured 3-D scans of the bridge for a virtual reality experience just months earlier, documenting nuanced details that would prove invaluable to recreate it.

Students and faculty within the College of Engineering, Computer Science, and Construction Management eagerly stepped forward to support the rebuild of both structures.

Chris Souder, chair of the Construction Management Department, is serving as the project manager for the bridge rebuild pro bono while also supervising students, who assisted with rebuilding the caretaker home and now are volunteering with the bridge itself.

Fundraising for the project, estimated at a total cost of $2.6 million, is ongoing. So far, they have raised $1 million, which is enough to complete its engineering plans, secure permits, and initiate the first phase. In early October, they celebrated the groundbreaking for the foundation, pillars, and abutments. Souder hopes to initiate the second phase, which includes the flooring and trusses, in spring. Phase three will likely start in spring 2022, to add the bridge’s siding and roof.

“If we had all the money right now, we could work on this project all winter,” Souder said.

Four student groups—Associated General Contractors (AGC), Design Build Institute of America, IOTA International Construction Honor Society, and Women in Construction—led the 900-square-foot caretaker home rebuild, each with a supervising contractor. They broke ground in November 2019 and the home was completed earlier this summer.

Students put together framing for the foundation of a structure near the Honey Run Covered Bridge.
Photographed in February, construction management students Humberto Cortez (left) and Tyler Firebaugh (right) were among the dozens of who participated in the rebuild of the caretaker home prior to complications due to the COVID-19 pandemic. (Jessica Bartlett / University Photographer)

Unfortunately, the COVID-19 pandemic was a major blow to students’ availability and ability, but a few dedicated individuals found opportunities to assist. Likewise, opportunities for involvement on the bridge reconstruction are still limited by the pandemic, but three students are taking an active role.

“If it wasn’t for COVID, I would have had far more students involved with the construction side, but we kind of lost everybody,” Souder said. “However, for the three students who are currently involved on a daily basis, this is an unparalleled learning opportunity.”

From software selection and submitting permits to meeting deadlines and ensuring safety and quality control and assurance, students are also assisting with budgeting and scheduling. No doubt, Souder said, construction management majors who are involved in this project are destined to have premier internship and career opportunities as a result.

Nevada-based Q&D Construction was already a longtime employer of Chico State graduates, so Souder was pleased when its pricing and schedule led the quotes for the project. The company not only values the maturity and enthusiasm students bring to the job, he said, but they appreciate the opportunity to help the construction leaders of tomorrow along their educational paths.

President Hutchinson and ECC Dean Blake Wentz admire the progress of the project at its groundbreaking.
President Gayle Hutchinson and Blake Wentz, dean of the College of Engineering, Computer Science, and Construction Management, survey the groundbreaking ceremony on October 1. Dozens of people came out to witness the ceremonial event, just five weeks before the fire’s two-year anniversary.

While construction management major Brandon Wright has held many internships through the years, this is his first time on a bridge project. The experience is teaching him not only about the work and different processes it takes, but the nuances for a structure like this, he said, hopefully make him a more well-rounded candidate when he applies for jobs before graduation.  

As a Chico native, he also appreciates being able to give back to his community in such a meaningful way.

“I know exactly the significance of the bridge to the community. Hundreds if not thousands of wedding and prom photos have been taken here. Truly a community landmark,” he said. “The Camp Fire hit Paradise and the surrounding towns hard, but our community really came together to help those who lost everything. Hopefully helping rebuild this will restore even a tiny sense of what was lost.”