Organization connects community and aggregates industry

By |  April 4, 2016

Project Cornerstone was formed in April 2014 to serve as a bridge between the community and the industry it knows little about. The San Diego-based organization aims to educate people about the importance of aggregates, and its main goals are to connect with students, adults and teachers – and to focus on the importance of locally sourced materials.

“Most people don’t realize where [aggregates] comes from and how important it is in their lives,” says Crystal Howard, executive director of Project Cornerstone. “Our mission is to teach our communities, our students and our elected officials about the importance of local construction aggregate resources, and that they are the cornerstone of our communities.”

One of the organization’s primary goals is to educate middle school students about the industry. In 2015, Project Cornerstone connected with more than 3,000 sixth- to eighth-grade students. About 600 students went on tours of local quarries, including those of Hanson Aggregates, Robertson Ready-Mixed Concrete, Superior Ready Mix, Marathon Construction Corp. and others.

“The industry doesn’t know how to connect with the schools or get involved in the community, so we provide that bridge for them,” Howard says. “If we’re doing something in the community, we always bring in volunteers from the industry, and they get to know the community more.”

Students from Cajon Valley Middle School in El Cajon, Calif., had the opportunity to tour Hanson’s Santee Operation, where they were led through three main stations: concrete mixing, mobile equipment, and aggregate products and materials.

“It’s part of their science curriculum,” says Chris Hobby, vice president and general manager for Hanson Aggregates’ California division. “We’ll show them the types of products that we make [and] the sizing of the products. We’ll show them the equipment that’s used to make the products or to load and haul the products. So you’ll see loaders, you’ll see haul trucks, you’ll see crushers and screens.”

At the concrete mixing station, the students create concrete molds out of different shapes, such as a star, truck, butterfly or football. They also learn about sieve analysis. During the analysis, students compare two construction aggregate samples. One has crushed rock and beach sand and the other has crushed rock and river sand. They weigh each screen, calculate percentages and then compare results of the fine sand and determine which sample is best used for concrete.

At the other stations, the students observe the operation’s mobile equipment, including wheel loaders and haul trucks. They’re also taught how materials are separated and what they’re made into.

Attracting workers

Through Project Cornerstone, students create cement molds from materials donated by local quarries. Photos courtesy of Project Cornerstone

Through Project Cornerstone, students create cement molds from materials donated by local quarries. Photos courtesy of Project Cornerstone

Those active in Project Cornerstone see it as a way of introducing a little-known industry to younger generations, especially as fewer youths are deciding to work in the industry.

In 2014, the median age for employees in the mining, quarrying, and oil and gas extraction industries was 41.5, according to the latest data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). BLS also reports that about 10 percent of employees in the industry are between 16 and 24 years old, compared to the 48 percent of employees between 25 and 44.

“It’s kind of one of those industries that nobody really sees anymore, especially in the newer generation of kids, where technology is really becoming the forefront,” says Eric Inouye, plant manager for Hanson’s Santee Quarry in California. “It’s good to show them the back door that helps make everything work, including aggregates, construction, cement and the roads we drive on.”

The Santee site also boasts a unique feature: There’s an active landfill on the site.

“It’s a bit of a sustainable operation where we create the void space to put refuse or trash,” Hobby says. “So we take the materials and create the hole for the landfill. We process the material, and then provide those aggregates to the marketplace either as ready-mix concrete, asphalt or construction-grade materials.”

From the landfill, the students can see where the trash goes, how it’s handled and the recycling process of green waste.

Branching out

Although Project Cornerstone mainly operates in the San Diego area, it plans to branch out and expand its presence throughout California and the United States. It’s organizing seven field trips for Cajon Valley Middle School in 2016, up from a total of five trips in 2015.

Students shared what they learned and enjoyed while working with local quarries and Project Cornerstone.

Students shared what they learned and enjoyed while working with local quarries and Project Cornerstone.

Project Cornerstone reinforces the need for education by equipping teachers with the tools necessary to teach their students about the aggregates industry. Organization members, including Howard, see workshops as a way to accomplish this goal. “We’re going to bring teachers together, and [the workshops] are going to combine the science and economics of the construction aggregates industry,” Howard says. “It’ll be us teaching them how they can apply the aggregates industry to the curriculum they have to teach.”

Members also demonstrate different types of in-class activities for students, with local quarries supplying the sand, gravel and cement for these projects.

Additionally, Project Cornerstone reaches out to adults throughout San Diego County. Members give presentations to rotary clubs, Kiwanis clubs and community planning groups, focusing on the importance of locally sourced materials.

“Most people don’t think about where the materials come from that make concrete and asphalt and don’t realize that they need to be from a local source,” Howard says. “Importing from greater distances creates all kinds of environmental issues, like more trucks on the road, greenhouse gases and that type of thing.”

As the organization continues to educate the community in the San Diego area, Howard hopes to expand Project Cornerstone with additional funding through grants, which will allow the organization to continue serving as a bridge between the aggregates industry and surrounding communities.

“It’s very clear that the general public does not understand the construction aggregate industry and how it impacts them,” Howard says. “Mining, in general, is a scary word to the public when you first bring it up. This program has really opened the eyes of students, their teachers and the general public that sand and gravel is really the cornerstone of their community.”

Allison Barwacz

About the Author:

Allison Barwacz is the digital media manager for North Coast Media (NCM). She completed her undergraduate degree at Ohio University where she received a Bachelor of Science in magazine journalism from the E.W. Scripps School of Journalism. She works across a number of digital platforms, which include creating e-newsletters, writing articles and posting across social media sites. She also creates content for NCM's Portable Plants magazine, GPS World magazine and Geospatial Solutions. Her understanding of the ever-changing digital media world allows her to quickly grasp what a target audience desires and create content that is appealing and relevant for any client across any platform.

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