Crossroads in life are measured differently by different people, and the power of one project can change the direction of a firm. In 2014, Tamarack Grove Engineering (TGE) founding principles, Bonnie and Brian Sielaff, were considering whether to expand their firm by adding staff and expertise and relocating or if they should stay small and locally focused. They sought guidance and a path forward. Sitting in the literal shadow of their backyard studio considering next steps, the Sielaffs received a phone call that would change the path of Tamarack Grove Engineering. The caller, Leroy Troyer of The Troyer Group, offered them an opportunity that was the answer to the direction they sought: to be part of a team to replicate Noah’s Ark.
The Story Begins…
In 2007, The Ark Encounter was just an idea, a rendering on paper. When the recession hit in 2008, the project, which had not received ample funding, went on hold. In 2012, $25M was donated and The Ark Encounter came to life. However, during the recession Leroy Troyer, the architect behind the vision, had downsized his architecture firm significantly and no longer had the capacity or expertise to do the work. Leroy engaged his network seeking recommendations for structural engineering firms capable of the project. TGE’s name was at the top of the list due to their extensive portfolio of heavy timber projects.
Sielaff was intrigued by the project and decided it was an opportunity worth exploring. “I conveyed to Leroy that before I could commit to a project of this size, I needed to review the project in its entirety; what had been done to date and what remained to be done. After two long days spent in his office reviewing the project, I left with a sense of astonishment and thankfulness how things can be presented to us when we’re patient,” he said.
The meeting between TGE and Leroy Troyer solidified the relationship and the fate of the firm’s future was decided. TGE opened a new office, made several key hires, and partnered with Troyer on the project as design and detail engineer of record for the bow and stern portions of the ark. TGE also worked collaboratively on the middle section of the structure completing detail connections for The Troyer Group.
Over the next two years, the mammoth project continually tested and challenged the design team. Because the client was committed to using techniques only available to crafters of the original Ark, 100 Amish craftsmen from around the country were employed. The Amish crews used ancient timber framing techniques, such as manually bending the wood for the rudder rather than steaming it to make it more pliable. Unfortunately, modern building codes dictated that wooden pegs, originally specified to hold the ark together, be replaced with steel fasteners. While building methods reflected those of the original vessel, The Ark Encounter was designed to 2013 Kentucky building code.
One pivotal project, The Ark Encounter, established TGE’s national reputation as one of the few structural engineering firms capable of successfully completing this specialized type of work. It also launched the firm down a path of growth, changing the future for Bonnie and Brian and their talented team. TGE is pleased that their work on the largest timber frame structure of this type has created a new icon in the replication of such an important Biblical structure.
“The Ark Encounter was the project of a lifetime and it allowed TGE to grow and expand. Leroy’s and the entire project team’s friendships serve as a reminder to Bonnie and me of the value of such relationships,” said Sielaff.