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Daily Journal
     January 30, 2020      #66-30 KDJ

BBCHS seeks robotics home 

By Lee Provost

BRADLEY — They are not nomads, but the Ironclad Robotics team from Bradley-Bourbonnais Community High School is a program in search of a home.

Having recently lost their home at the former Roper Corp. manufacturing plant because of expanding business needs there, leadership from the robotics program and the BBCHS administration are pounding the pavement in search of home.

The program is currently housed on the stage of the Boilermakers’ main gym at the West North Street school, but Ironclad leadership is making plans to move into a vacant storefront space at Northfield Square mall as a temporary fix. A permanent solution, however, is what staff and students are hoping to find sooner rather than later.

Space for construction of robots was not likely at the top of the list of issues when BBCHS was originally constructed more than 70 years ago and expanded nine times since.

Education and its needs have greatly changed over time.

In fact, Superintendent Scott Wakeley said part of education’s charge is helping prepare students for jobs or careers which do not even yet exist.

“Schools are no longer about straight hallways, classrooms and lockers. Schools are like an evolution. Just like medical science has evolved from scalpels to lasers, our current facility doesn’t lend itself to what our needs are,” he said. “But the stage in the main gym is the best we can do right now.”

Unfortunately, the stage has other duties as well. Robotics members have to disassemble and reassemble their robots at least a handful of times when the stage is needed.

For the first four years of the robotics program, Ironclad had a home at the Roper site — free of charge thanks to Olivet Nazarene University which controlled some of the square footage there.

However, like the needs of education, things changed at the site and Ironclad was sent packing.


Now in its fifth year, the program is somewhat homeless.

“Our school building is no longer adequate for 21st century education,” said Ryan Verver, head coach of the Ironclad. This year’s extracurricular program is comprised of about 50 students.

“The school can’t house what our robotics program needs.”

Any of the school’s three gymnasiums would, of course, check off all the boxes needed for the program, i.e., 10 to 15 feet of ceiling height and a 40-foot-by-30-foot room.

However, the gym has other uses, meaning daily classes for the approximate 2,000 high school students.

Robotics team sponsors approached the mall regarding space. Like ONU, mall management said the school could use space free of charge. BBCHS was granted a special use permit to operate its program in the former Hallmark store.

While the school is thankful to have some space to fully assemble its robot and be able to put it through its paces as it is being readied for competitions, the school would like a permanent location.

“We have a lot of people looking, but this type of space is an issue in this community,” Verver said.


The ideal solution would be constructing an on-campus structure. That path may be easier said than done. The approximate 35-acre campus is consumed with a 236,000-square-foot school — originally constructed in 1948 as a 44,000-square-foot high school. The school has been expanded through nine additions.

The hoped-for robotics space is actually only needed for about a three-month window of February, March and April. These months are when the finishing touches are put of the robot and it is repeatedly tested to make sure it responds to its commands in the appropriate manner.

The team and its robot travels throughout the Midwest and participates in FIRSTS competitions against teams from around the nation and the world. During the late winter and spring competitions, their projects are assembled and tested and placed before judges checking and scoring the functions of motors, circuit boards, drive trains, hydraulics and pneumatic systems.

The majority of the robot can be constructed on the gym stage. The robot will check-in standing about 4-feet high and and its base is just over 3 feet wide. Its arms extend another few feet high. It will weigh in at about 125 pounds.

Like football, chess or Spanish club, robotics is an after-school activity. While it is in its infancy locally, these teams have been in place in many high schools for several years. BBCHS travels to competitions in Chicago; Cedar Falls, Iowa; and Detroit, Mich., to name a few of its stops.

The varsity team yearly works on a large robot. The junior varsity team works on significantly smaller automation. Kankakee, Herscher and Paxton-Buckley-Loda high schools participate in FIRST Tech Challenge events. In these competitions, teams of up to 15 members in grades 7-12 are challenged to design, build, program, and operate robots to compete in a head-to-head challenge in an alliance format.

As a varsity-level team, BBCHS participates in FIRST Robotic Competitions which gives teams of students limited time and resources to build and program industrial-sized robots under strict rules to play a difficult field game against other robotics teams. According the FIRST program, this program is “as close to real-world engineering as a student can get.”

“These are 21st century skills,” Verver stressed. “These are the new skills that are needed for today’s workforce. That’s why there is the big push for S.T.E.M. (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) education.”


Levels of robotics competition

FIRST Tech Challenges

Teams of up to 15 team members in grades 7-12 are challenged to design, build, program, and operate robots to compete in a head-to-head challenge in an alliance format.

Each season ends with a championship competition.

FIRST Robotics Competitions

Under strict rules, limited time and resources, teams of high school students are challenged to raise funds, design a team "brand," hone teamwork skills, and build and program industrial-sized robots to play a difficult field game against like-minded competitors.

It’s as close to real-world engineering as a student can get. Volunteer professional mentors lend their time and talents to guide each team. Each season ends with a championship competition.

— FIRST, (For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology)

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