NORTH HOLLYWOOD : Kids Get Chance to Build Interest in Construction

Donning hard hats and presented with 100 interlocking pieces, about 50 fifth- and sixth-graders at a North Hollywood elementary school were faced with the challenge of creating a building of any sort in less than an hour.

The contest, sponsored by the National Assn. of Women in Construction, took place nationwide Tuesday and is part of an effort to familiarize children with careers in construction.

"We want to give them information about opportunities in the construction industry and also to show them that we are all women," said Barbara Bianco, who is on the education committee of the association.

"It's also a known fact that in the year 2000 there will be a shortage of skilled laborers," Bianco added.

Bianco headed up Tuesday's contest with the fifth- and sixth-graders at Fair Avenue Elementary in North Hollywood.

The rules for the competition were simple: the youngsters were given 100 blocks and the option to use a small stone, a piece of string or foil to create something that had to do with construction.

The Fair Avenue students built everything from hospitals to health spas with their Lego-like pieces.

William Guerrero, 12, built an Italian restaurant with an elaborate entrance, the kind of restaurant that he said he'd like to take a date to someday.

Marcela Garcia, 11, erected a three-story shopping mall, much like her favorite, the Glendale Galleria, but "bigger and better," she said.

Among the more imaginative works was 11-year-old David Murillo's leaning tower--a bank and jail built into a futuristic tower topped by a robot that would jump down after escaped convicts. Murillo said the edifice could hold up to 10,000 people.

Each building was judged by a panel of association members who rated the works in terms of originality, attention to detail, use of materials, oral presentation, enthusiasm and reason for participating.

The first place went to Amela Syhapanha, 12, who constructed an intricate air cleaning factory that would take in polluted air and churn out clean air.

Syhapanha will compete against 20 other first place winners across the San Fernando Valley for a chance to participate in the national contest.

When asked in an interview about people who think girls are not supposed to do construction, she grinned broadly, and whispered: "They are suckers."

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