A real-world project got a lot more real – and rewarding – when civil engineering students from the University of Waterloo returned to an elementary school for the recent grand opening of a new playground structure.

Finished play structure - Waterloo Engineering students (left to right) Adam Rywak, Rodrigo Santalla and Daniel Qi pose while kids swarm a new playground structure at Keatsway Public School.

Waterloo Engineering students (left to right) Adam Rywak, Rodrigo Santalla and Daniel Qi pose while kids swarm a new playground structure at Keatsway Public School.

The engineering students were part of a novel, competitive process to design the $75,000 structure last year after twice meeting with pupils at nearby Keatsway Public School in Waterloo to listen to their ideas and feedback.

Its ultimate success was obvious to Adam Rywak, Rodrigo Santalla and Daniel Qi when excited kids streamed by them to try out the two-part, jungle-themed structure after a ceremonial ribbon-cutting.

“It looks like our clients are 100-per-cent satisfied with the product we created for them,” says Rywak, one of about 140 students in a first-year mechanics class who took part in the project.

“It actually feels like we did something meaningful for the local community,” adds Qi.

The importance of consulting customers was one of the key lessons that lecturer Rania Al-Hammoud hoped her students would take away from the project.

Worth 15 per cent of final marks in the class, the assignment included a pitch to pupils at an assembly and a vote on the top three designs by the school community at a fun fair a year ago.

“It worked,” Al-Hammoud says of the 18-month process. “We did something and we have an outcome which is beneficial for everybody.”

Penny Miller, the principal at Keatsway, is just as pleased with the finished play structure and the consultation with her pupils along the way.

“I think that’s why they’re so invested in it,” she says. “They really feel this is their playground because they helped to make it happen.”

The playground opening was part of an event featuring entertainment, displays, games and food trucks to celebrate the school’s 40th anniversary.

Swarms of kids showed their approval by climbing, swinging and sliding on the completed structure.

“Very fun,” says Caitlin Mooring, 8. “I like the height of it and how big it is.”

After word of the Keatsway effort spread, a similar playground project – this time involving first-year environmental and geological engineering students – was launched at Vista Hills Public School in Waterloo.