In 2020, four University of Wisconsin-Platteville senior design civil engineering students were tasked with the project of solving the parking lot concerns at the American Players Theatre (APT) in Spring Green, Wisconsin. Together Ryan Henning, Drew Archie, Keegan Flynn and Josh Hendrickson presented their findings to the company, not realizing a couple years later APT would be receiving a nearly $1 million Tourism Capital Investment Grant from the state to embark on those parking lot improvements.
The announcement came in February of 2022, from the governor’s office that APT would receive a $971,360 grant to, “expand and revitalize the theatre parking lot by replacing insufficient lighting with new LED lighting, expanding the parking lot to accommodate an additional 75 cars, installing a swale to manage storm water runoff and paving the portion of the lot that accommodates accessible parking.” Cari Stebbins, operations manager at APT said she was in disbelief when hearing the news.
“The state made a grant program available for shovel ready projects. We would not have been shovel ready without the senior design project,” said Stebbins. “We used that as our baseline and expanded upon that to apply for the grant. We are thrilled. This is a dream project. I’m not sure we would have been able to do it without the support of the UW-Platteville students and their work, the state and this grant.”
APT broke ground on Oct. 18. According to Stebbins, APT hopes to have the majority of the project completed by their 2023 season.
“It’s incredible to see a project concept come to fruition,” said Henning, a 2020 UW-Platteville graduate, who also served as the senior design team project manager. “One of the best parts of working with the senior design team is that, while in school, we had the opportunity to take a real-world problem, develop solutions and provide a professional recommendation to APT. And, now because of this grant, the project can happen.”
Henning is a project manager at WDS Construction in Beaver Dam, Wisconsin, and still recalls working with his senior design team to find the main cause of what was deteriorating the parking lot. He said the group had four objectives: improve safety, increase the number of parking stalls, improve stormwater management and provide a cost estimate. The group was able to pinpoint a solution, it came down to a watershed analysis.
“The watershed steered us toward the problem,” he said. “Once we had that correctly identified, we needed to determine how we could address it and show APT the importance of looking at the parking lot in a different way.”
At the time of the project, Carrie Van Hallgren served as APT’s managing director. During her tenure with the company, she said the rain mixing in with the gravel parking lot caused challenging problems.
“The grant would have never been possible without the work of the students,” said Van Hallgren. “It’s a great example of the state, public higher education and non-profit groups working together to solve problems. APT has a huge economic impact on Southwest Wisconsin. It’s the largest outdoor theatre in the state and one of the largest in the country. We welcome 100,000 people to the theatre each year. Improving the parking will make it a better experience for everybody.”
The collaboration between UW-Platteville and APT was a beneficial experience for Henning; he discussed how the hands-on experience prepared him for his professional career.
“I learned the importance of critical problem-solving skills,” he said. “Working at WDS, my job isn’t to fix the issue in front of me, it’s to dig in, determine what’s causing the issue and develop options for addressing the cause of the problem. I’m excited that APT is able to take the solution the senior design team created and make it a reality for their facility. It’s going to fix a big issue. It’s going to be beautiful.”
As construction gets underway at APT, Stebbins is appreciative of the relationship she formed with the senior design team and the university.
“The students were very professional. It was informative in ways I was not expecting. For example, they told us we had 50 acres of watershed coming through our parking lot which we were not aware of – they had good ideas and were collaborative. It was an eye-opening experience to know our property in a different way,” said Stebbins. “It was a fantastic experience for us. I would like to engage with UW-Platteville with other projects in the future.”
Written by Ruth Wendlandt