The Tribune Democrat, Johnstown, PA

Local News

April 21, 2013

Floating an idea: Pitt-Johnstown students paddle concrete canoe

JOHNSTOWN — UPJ Civil Engineering associate professor Brian L. Houston hears the same thing every year.

Skeptics hear about concrete canoe racing and wonder if the winner is the first one to the lake’s bottom.

“People don’t believe me,” said Houston, the students’ adviser. “But, yes, concrete can float.”

Houston’s student engineers, as well as fellow students from four other colleges, proved it for him on the Quemahoning Reservoir on Sunday during the American Society of Civil Engineers’ annual Mid-Atlantic Regional Conference.

Students paddled 220-pound concrete canoes across the lake, steering them around pylons for a chance to earn a shot at a national prize, what the ASCE has dubbed “America’s Cup” for student engineers.

“You’ve got to find the perfect balance,” said UPJ junior Mike Imgrund. “It’s got to be strong enough to hold your paddlers but light enough to float.”

Behind him, classmates Stephanie Buncich and Ashley Babik were celebrating a strong finish in a three-team sprint.

“We made one boat. It took us months to design and build,” said Imgrund, of Bedford, gesturing to the sleek painted craft behind him.

The day started with UPJ, Drexel, Penn State, University of Maryland and U.S. Naval Academy students submerging their crafts into the Que – a test they had to pass to be able to board them later for races.

“They have to rise back up to the surface – and all of them did,” said Houston.

Engineering students from several of the schools, UPJ included, said they spent most of two semesters making it happen.

One secret: Concrete with tiny air-filled glass bubbles. It essentially makes the concrete half-filled with air instead of sand or gravel like the stuff in sidewalks, Houston said.

“It’s pretty high-tech stuff,” he added.

According to the American Society of Civil Engineers’ website,, the sport dates back to the 1960s, but that schools have been facing off regionally for a chance at a national event in Illinois since 1988.

The regional competition, which also included small-scale steel bridge building, was part of a two-day event at Summer’s Best Two Weeks campground.  

The area has hosted regional championships twice before – most recently in 2006, Houston said.

This year’s event featured hundreds of students from

14 schools across three states.

Winners will be listed in Tuesday’s Tribune-Democrat.

Students competing had a long list of strict requirements for their bridge’s length and height – and had to fit the materials in a 3 foot box, said Chris Bolich, a UPJ junior.

Houston said the competition is just part of the experience, saying the process teaches valuable, hands-on lessons students can take with them as they pursue careers in the field.

“This shows how much they can achieve on their own,” he added.

Text Only | Photo Reprints
Local News
  • District Deaths April 21, 2014

    April 20, 2014

  • Halfway house inmates can ease back into society

    Prison life can be a time warp.
    When inmates are locked away – for months, years, decades – society moves forward: Technology evolves, major events occur, pop culture changes. From a personal perspective, families and friends live their lives: weddings, funerals, graduations, births, retirements. All the while, criminals bide their time, existing in a regimented world of cement walls and metal bars.
    Almost all of them eventually rejoin society, though.

    April 19, 2014

  • Crime board took aim at house

    Johnstown’s unemployment rate is around 8 percent.
    One-third of the city’s population lives in poverty.
    Burglaries and assaults significantly increased between 2010 and 2012. There is a thriving illegal trade in heroin and prescription drugs.
    Given those conditions, it can be challenging for Johnstown Community Corrections Center residents to find jobs when living in the facility or to avoid falling back into a criminal lifestyle upon their release.

    April 19, 2014

  • Homicides linked to center

    Three homicides that took place in Johnstown last year involved either a suspect or victim who previously resided in the Community Corrections Center.
    Police Chief Craig Foust confirmed the name of one victim, who spent almost two months in the facility on Washington Street during 2007, a time period verified by the Pennsylvania Department of Corrections.

    April 19, 2014

  • bachota Volunteers helping to spruce up community

    Walls and ceilings inside the Cambria County Library look clean and bright with fresh new coats of paint on them.
    The work was recently done by inmates from the Johnstown Community Corrections Center.

    April 19, 2014 2 Photos

  • alanna Hartzok targets income disparity

    Alanna Hartzok described herself as being a conservative progressive.
    The Franklin County resident said she is in favor of conserving environmental resources, education opportunities, Social Security and Medicare, while wanting to progressively address wealth inequality, health care and taxation.

    April 19, 2014 1 Photo

  • Schools rise to leadership challenge

    Forest Hills and Cambria Heights high school students put the spirit of healthy competition toward a good cause and picked up some lessons in leadership along the way.

    April 19, 2014

  • KATEY LADIKA Student’s photos win awards

    A Forest Hills High School junior has captured several awards in a high school arts and writing contest that has identified greats such as Truman Capote and Andy Warhol.

    April 19, 2014 1 Photo

  • Jim Siehl JIM SIEHL | Music to my ears

    Seldom has $15 produced such a high level of entertainment as it did a few weeks ago when I found myself in the second row just left of center keeping back the tears once again during my third live performance of “Les Miserables.”

    April 19, 2014 1 Photo

  • Michele Bender Bye, bye, Easter birdies

    Animals fascinated my mom. Riding the train between Johnstown and Philly, she saw horses, pigs, sheep, cows … a Mattel See ’n Say of farm critters.

    April 19, 2014 1 Photo


Would you like to see the Johnstown Community Corrections Center remain open after its lease runs out on Oct. 11, 2015?

I'm not sure
     View Results
House Ads