Northeastern University Students Study Wrentham Center

Grace Allen
From left: Northeastern University Capstone Design Team members James Ceal, Project Manager Jessica O’Neil, Josephine Rosenthal, Cameron Parker and Odera Cole are working on a redesign of Wrentham Center. (Photo courtesy of Northeastern University)
Issue Date: 
April, 2019
Article Body: 

A group of Northeastern University civil engineering seniors has been studying the layout of Wrentham Center with a goal of proposing new designs to improve pedestrian safety and alleviate traffic problems.
The students—Jessica O’Neil, James Ceal, Cameron Parker, Josephine Rosenthal, and Odera Cole—have been working on the capstone project as a requirement to complete their undergraduate degrees.
“It’s so exciting to have these students here in Wrentham, using their civil engineering skills to take a fresh look at Wrentham Center,” said Town Administrator Kevin Sweet in a statement. “It’s a great project, because they’re full of exciting, new ideas to improve the area, and it also gives them a chance to see what it’s like to design something for a community, with real residents passing through that area daily who could benefit from their ideas and input.”
The students created a survey for residents to share input, and received over 100 responses. The survey was then extended to King Philip High School students, to get their perspective on walking and driving to school and in the downtown area.
Northeastern University Professor Daniel Dulaski, the students’ capstone project advisor, said they have spent about 9 weeks on the Wrentham project so far, with an eye towards improving the area.
“The idea here is for the students to determine if anything is missing,” explained Dulaski. “Can we do anything better for cyclists, for pedestrians, for motor vehicles, for the owners of the shops and businesses? Are there green spaces that haven’t been thought about and need to be reconnected?”
The goal of the resulting design will be to promote a “complete streets” approach, where all users are considered equal, while considering the potential for future economic development.
Dulaski, a Mansfield resident, has overseen similar capstone projects in nearby towns, but said the recent use of drones has helped to get precise, accurate measurements for towns without GIS base maps, like Wrentham. A geographic information system (GIS) is a framework for gathering, managing, and analyzing data and organizing the layers of information into visualizations using maps and 3D scenes.
Last year, Dulaski became licensed by the FAA and started flying drones to get images to convert into base maps. He then contacted Town Administrator Sweet in September and suggested the project. When Sweet agreed, Dulaski flew a drone over Wrentham over several visits and compiled the data for his students.
This month, the students will share their ideas with the town in a formal presentation. Based on past experience, Dulaski said towns generally vet the suggestions and alternatives through different departments and come up with a buffet of improvements to ideally implement over time.
Currently, Dulaski is overseeing two other groups of students doing similar work in Weston and West Tisbury on Martha’s Vineyard. Over the last decade, Northeastern students that have taken the capstone design class have worked on 45 varying municipal projects in 22 communities.
In 2015, the town of Mansfield was awarded a $2.4 million MASSWORKS grant based on the recommendations of Northeastern students to improve the area around the MBTA commuter rail station.
“The towns are getting the equivalent of a $75,000 design package for next to nothing, and the students are participating in real-world projects like they’ll be working on for the rest of their lives,” said Dulaski. “They’re getting experience in front of the different boards and the different community members. It’s a win-win for everyone.”