Other than the igloo-shape of it, and the Springstead High School students at the driveway working on two submarines they built, and which they intend to race next week in Washington, D.C., it would be difficult to suspect this place in Hernando Beach had anything to do with NASA or the U.S. Navy.
“We totally rebuilt it,” Steve Barton said about the older submarine. “First time we were at three knots. This last time we were doing six.”
Whether that older submarine will go faster than six knots depends on Springstead senior Dennis Carroll’s legs, Steve said, since Carroll will be the one inside of it with the breathing apparatus and his feet hooked onto bicycle pedals that make the propeller spin.
Carroll, who came on board shortly after Springstead’s first major win four years back, is about to compete in his second submarine race June 24 in Washington, D.C.
About 22 students and chaperones will head out next Friday for the biannual competition, including Springstead senior Kylie Van Meter and Savanna Eley, who just graduated this year.
“It definitely opens up possibilities for scholarships,” Carroll said.
“We’re one of the few high schools that go,” Van Meter said. “But most are colleges, and typically there are engineering professors there.”
“You get a really great opportunity to speak one-on-one with professors,” Eley said.
“We race against universities across the world, there are several high schools and we’ve been in this for years,” Pat Barton said. “Students actually build their own submarines, and their job is to take it down the race course as fast as humanly possible.”
The Springstead team recently raced a one-passenger submarine, but a new, two-passenger submarine will be raced this year.
“They had to learn how to scubadive, weld, all kids of things to make this,” Pat Barton said. “In 2009, again we took first place in best overall performance and second place in overall speed. Our competition is people like Cal Politech, the Naval Academy, Texas A&M, universities from Venezuela, England, and these kids do a heck of a job.”
The submarines Springstead students built are 13 feet long and go 25-30 feet deep, Pat Barton said, and the students wear scuba gear while submerged in the submarines, which fill with water as they sink.
“We attempt not to go to the bottom, not that we haven’t been there on many occasions,” Pat Barton said. “It’s kind of a dark environment and they follow a string of light to the other end.”
The races are run on a 100-meter course in a mile-long indoor test tank facility, Pat Barton said.
“The kids are pretty much in awe when they’re up there,” she said. “It’s a tremendous learning experience for the high school students because they not only get to see what real world application is, but get to work with the Navy and real brass.”
Four years ago, Steve helped lead the Springstead students to a first-place victory in a submarine race against 30 universities, both national and international.
With ready access to the ocean channel, his home has been perfect for testing and training in the submarines. And as soon as one competition is over, the group begins preparing and training for the next, Van Meter said, and that wouldn’t be viable without the Bartons’ direction.
“We take them out almost every weekend,” Van Meter said about the two submarines.
“You hear the big thing about STEM — science, technology, engineering, and mathematics — and the importance of that, and this is a real world application of it,” Pat Barton said. “When they first conceived it there were too many kids in engineering that had all this book knowledge, but when you take it out in the real world it doesn’t always work, and this is a lesson of, ‘Oh my lord – what do we do now?’ and a lot of going back to the drawing board.”
They have also participated in other competitions, winning several thousands of dollars in grants that have helped fund the maintenance, construction, and training surrounding the two submarines, in addition to funding provided by Hernando Education Foundation.
But support for the submarine project runs deeper than that: Springstead Principal Susan Duval will be there in person this year as she has in past years, and has given her personal funds to assist the group when they were in need.
“Our principal has been unfailing in helping us,” Steve said. “We broke a gear box in the race we won. She said, ‘Well, get another gear box,’ and I said, ‘It costs $400.’ And she said, ‘I’ll have it airlifted in by 10 a.m. tomorrow.’ So she was really there for us.”
Eley said it’s the norm for Duval to be present and actively supporting Springstead students in various extracurricular activities.
“We’re really thankful for everything she’s done,” Eley said. “She’s a really good principal.”
The Springstead students and chaperones on the submarine project head out for the competition this coming Friday.