The Abonmarche Planning Department: A Guide to Understanding What We Do and Why We Do It!
The Abonmarche Planning Department works with our partner communities to provide technical assistance and creative solutions to community needs. We do this by working with local stakeholders to develop strategies and plans based on a community’s unique character and assets, commonly referred to as place-based planning. This process combines public sentiment, data, and best practices to design plans that promote appropriate growth and development for each community individually based on their strengths and aspirations for the future. Here, we invite you to learn more about the Abonmarche approach to planning.
What do our planners do?
Our Planning Department is dedicated to working closely with local stakeholders to shape the present and future in our partner communities by assisting them to develop community-driven strategies for growth and development, from vision-setting to implementation. We work in partnership with our clients to discover, document, and create actionable strategies for success based on the unique needs and aspirations of each community’s residents, businesses, and the environment. We also work with public and private developers, navigating the planning and zoning processes to ensure compliance.
We work with communities to provide the following:
Master/Comprehensive Planning: Develop long-term, strategic plans that envision the future they desire, focusing on land use, transportation, infrastructure, and economic development.
Area/Neighborhoods Planning: Design creative solutions and strategies for a distinct area of a community such as a corridor or neighborhood allowing for an in-depth analysis.
Zoning and Land Use Compliance: Implement zoning ordinances and land use regulations to ensure orderly development, protect natural resources, and create harmonious neighborhoods.
Development Review: Evaluate proposed projects to ensure they align with existing plans, zoning codes, and community interests – balancing progress with preservation.
Public Engagement: Facilitate stakeholder engagement and outreach to ensure that the voices and concerns of the people who live and work in our partner communities are heard and integrated into planning decisions.
Environmental Sustainability: Incorporate environmentally friendly practices into planning strategies to foster a resilient and ecologically balanced community.
Infrastructure Planning: Ensure that a community’s infrastructure, such as transportation networks and utilities, keeps pace with growth and development.
How do our planners work?
Our team applies sound planning principles and tools to each project we are a part of. Depending on the project goals, solutions can include:
Public Input and Participation: Public engagement is at the heart of our process. We facilitate community meetings, workshops, surveys, and online platforms to gather feedback and ensure inclusivity in our planning recommendations.
Research and Data Analysis: We start by gathering and analyzing data on demographics, land use patterns, economic trends, and environmental factors. This data-driven approach forms the foundation of our planning recommendations.
Collaboration: Our team collaborates closely with various stakeholders, including local government officials, community members, businesses, and other departments. Building partnerships ensures a holistic understanding of community needs and aspirations.
Long-Term Visioning: We collaborate with our partner communities to craft long-term visions through master planning, considering projected population growth, economic development opportunities, and environmental sustainability.
Zoning and Regulation: Applying meticulous zoning regulations and land use policies, we aim to strike a balance between encouraging growth and safeguarding the unique character of our communities.
Common questions and answers
1. How can urban planning impact a community?
Urban planning plays a crucial role in creating vibrant, equitable, and sustainable communities. It helps facilitate growth, manage urban sprawl, preserve green spaces, and improve infrastructure – in a manner consistent with a community’s character and goals while contributing to a higher quality of life for residents.
2. How can I get involved in the planning process?
We encourage community members to actively participate in the planning process. They can attend public meetings, provide feedback during public comment periods, and engage with us through our online platforms to have their voices heard.
3. How does zoning impact my property?
A zoning ordinance is a locally adopted document that regulates how land is used and creates standards for the way it can be developed. Understanding the zoning designation of your property can help you determine what types of projects are feasible on your land.
The Abonmarche Planning Department serves as the driving force behind the responsible growth and development of our partner communities. Through collaboration, research, and public engagement, we strive to create a sustainable and inclusive future for all. We hope this glimpse into the world of planning has shed light on the impact planning can have on your community and encourages you to be an active participant in shaping the community we envision together.
Reach out to our Planning team with questions or ideas your community is coming across – we are here to listen, learn, and grow, hand in hand with our vibrant partner communities.
Streamlining Water Management: A Digital Transformation for the Town of New Chicago, Indiana
In a world where digitalization has become the norm, there are still pockets of resistance where analog and legacy work processes hold strong. The town of New Chicago, with a population of 1,980 people, stood as a testament to this reluctance to change. The town’s records, infrastructure data, and operational processes were firmly rooted in pen and paper, and even the idea of digitizing seemed far-fetched. This is where Abonmarche stepped in, facilitating a digital transformation that has revolutionized the way New Chicago manages its water assets.
The Legacy Systems Challenge
With all records existing on old maps and index cards, the town faced challenges in efficiently managing its water distribution system. The population might be small, but the complexity of its water system is significant. New Chicago’s antiquated water meter books, comprising a staggering 13 binders, were a symbol of the challenge ahead.
The most significant challenge was the lack of readily accessible and reliable asset data. Knowledge about main lines, valves, and service lines was confined to maps from the 1990s, and when field workers encountered problems like leaks, they had to trek back to the facility to cross-check asset data. This process resulted in inefficiencies and frustration among the crew. Handwritten notes containing crucial information about asset attributes were often illegible, causing further complications.
A Digital Transformation Emerges
Recognizing the urgency for change, Abonmarche’s Digital Solutions team embarked on a journey to modernize New Chicago’s water management systems. The approach was innovative yet simple: ‘heads-up digitizing.’ This method involved recreating the entire water distribution system within the Esri ArcGIS platform, effectively transforming the data from analog to digital.
Within a few short weeks, the team completed this work, with transformative results:
1. Unleashing Digital Capabilities: The data was no longer confined to physical maps; it could now be downloaded, exported, and shared online. This open access unlocked capabilities that were previously unthinkable.
2. Empowering Field Workers: Field crews could now access the data they needed directly on tablets while out in the field. This eliminated the need for them to return to the facility to make decisions, improving efficiency and reducing operational delays.
3. Seamless Data Accessibility: The establishment of a project delivery site (Esri ArcGIS Online Portal) for the Town of New Chicago brought the power of digital data storage to the cloud. Information is now available 24/7, enabling real-time decision-making.
Bridging the Gap with Mobile Devices
The integration of the town’s digital map into a tablet app allowed field crews to manipulate and interact with the data directly from their devices. This move brought several notable benefits:
On-the-Spot Edits: Field crews can make necessary edits onsite, eliminating the need to process changes back at the office. This streamlined workflow ensures accuracy and reduces response times.
Effortless Application of Edits: With just a few taps on their tablets, crew members can seamlessly apply edits to the digital map, enhancing data accuracy and minimizing errors.
Innovative Mobile Device Equipment Leasing Program: At the heart of this program is our commitment to seamless tablet management for these communities. Instead of worrying about app deployments, iPad tracking, or the headaches of replacements due to loss or theft, our client communities can participate in our mobile device leasing program for just $55 per month, per iPad user – letting our team shoulder the responsibility of technology management.
Revolutionizing Meter Readings
The digital transformation didn’t stop with the water distribution system. New Chicago’s monthly meter readings, once documented laboriously in antiquated meter reading books, underwent a similar transformation.
The field crew’s process of manually recording readings in large, unwieldy books was replaced with a streamlined app developed by the Abonmarche Digital Solutions team. This app revolutionized the client’s process in several ways:
Account Number Integration: The addition of account number information to each property brought organization and structure to the meter reading process.
Consolidation of Data: The Digital Solutions team combined hundreds of account numbers tied to New Chicago’s addresses into a single, accessible source.
Field Map Integration: The app’s interface presented line items within a field map, enabling crews to input readings and attach photos to data points effortlessly.
Rainproof Efficiency: Unlike the physical books susceptible to rain, the tablets used by the field crews are waterproof, allowing them to work unhindered by weather conditions.
A Bright Digital Future for New Chicago
In the end, the transformation brought about by Abonmarche positioned the town of New Chicago for a brighter, more efficient future. The benefits were immense:
Efficient Field Work: Streamlined workflows and onsite decision-making maximized the crew’s time in the field, resulting in faster response times.
Web Accessibility: The digital data was effortlessly shareable on the web, enhancing communication and collaboration across departments.
Digital Records: Records and information were now stored securely in a digital format, eliminating the risks associated with physical books.
“This has opened up capabilities to us like never before,” noted the Water Superintendent of New Chicago. “I always had to come back to the office and sift and search through those old, worn-out water maps. Now, all the information I need is right here in the field with these tablets. This is amazing! This will help our crew do our job faster just by having the knowledge of where everything is located while we are onsite.”
This project demonstrates the impact of digital transformation. With streamlined workflows and improved technology, New Chicago can now participate in efficient, data-driven water management that facilitates better communication between team members. This success story serves as an inspiration for other communities looking to embrace the possibilities of digital investment.
On The Boards : Site Engineering & Surveying at the New Valpo Skate Park | Valparaiso, Indiana
What does a community skatepark look like today?
Valparaiso, Indiana is reimagining what’s possible as it brings a modern skatepark experience to a new generation of skate enthusiasts — and a new community gathering place for residents and visitors to enjoy as the city of Valparaiso continues to thrive and expand.
Our team in Valparaiso has served as the engineering force supporting the project, and we’re excited to share that the site’s stormwater improvements kicked off earlier this spring.
This new skate park is such a fantastic development project to be a part of,” notes Matt Keiser, engineering project manager at Abonmarche. “The experience of moving through the process of designing the necessary stormwater improvements and site surveying – it’s extremely rewarding to know that our engineering work beneath this new park is what supports all of the action going on above ground.”
A formal groundbreaking ceremony Tuesday, April 18, kicked off new phases of the project and unveiled the new skatepark’s name – Flounder & Friends Skatepark.
“With purpose, this park will welcome people with adaptive needs, with purpose this park will welcome people of all ages and skill levels, and with purpose this park will welcome residents and friends of Valparaiso,” said Kevin Nuppnau, assistant director of Valpo Parks, during the ceremony. “We’re not just saying it, we are building it, and it starts today.”
Flounder Skatepark — A New Community Experience
As in every community redevelopment project, the City of Valparaiso hosted an in-depth community engagement effort to understand what people wanted from a new skatepark experience, what was important to them in the park’s features and location, and how the park might bring residents and visitors together in a way that most skateparks fail to do. To maintain the project’s vision and ensure the skatepark becomes a reality, a task force was established among the design and engineering teams, Valpo Parks, and local skate enthusiasts.
In contracting a designer for the new skatepark, the City of Valparaiso reached out to Valparaiso native and X Games Course Design Dug Ketterman, of DugOut Design Studio. Ketterman, a venerated skate park and course designer who has designed some of the world’s most beloved skate experiences, has a special connection to his hometown’s original skatepark.
As a 16-year-old in the mid-1990s, Dug and his friends came to the city of Valparaiso to find a way to design a place to skate. They helped the city design and construct the skatepark, piece by piece. The finished design was named Flounder Skatepark in honor of Dug’s friend Ray “Flounder” Wampler, who was killed in a car accident on his way to school one morning. The first Flounder Skatepark stood from 1998 until 2020, when it closed due to its level of disrepair and unsafe conditions.
Valparaiso reconnected with Ketterman after 20 years to lead the design of a new park in a better location. Once built, the new skatepark will again carry the Flounder name — and will inject the same passion that Valparaiso area skaters bring to their art.
Nestled in the Heart of Valparaiso
To host the site of its new skatepark experience, Valparaiso and its design partners conducted a thorough site review and analysis—eventually selecting a section of its existing Fairgrounds Park. This was a significant departure from the old skatepark location, which was nestled deep into a 122-acre hiking park on the city’s north side; in contrast, the new location, in the center of town and along one of the city’s main thorough-fares, was chosen for its visibility and walkability within the community.
As part of Fairgrounds Park, the new skatepark will be enveloped by a 3/4 mile walking track and situated adjacent to 4 softball fields, a playground, a community pavilion, and a Life Trails System, designed to help adults ages 50+ with functional fitness.
Valparaiso’s park and recreation options are ideal; with more than 700 acres of parkland spread across 17 parks, 27 athletic fields, 14 children’s playgrounds, and two golf courses, people in every corner of the city have a unique park experience to call their own.
With the old skatepark in disrepair, the decision to design a new one came with new opportunities: to create an accessible state-of-the-art skatepark and to shape a citywide gathering place for people from all walks of life.
A Modern Skate Experience for All
During an extensive community engagement effort, the design team identified the community’s top desires, then created a design that could be implemented in phases as funding becomes available.
The new skatepark will feature spaces for skateboards, bikes, scooters, and skates — with an emphasis on user-friendliness for many ages and abilities, including beginner, intermediate, and advanced levels. Future phases of the skatepark design will feature a dedicated beginners area along with adaptive features for athletes in wheelchairs.
Ketterman’s design inspiration is “centered around the Golden Spiral, providing a harmonious aesthetic while encouraging growth and inclusivity around the world. We have designed a park that not only meets the needs of the community, but also redefines what is possible…”.
Space to Gather
Flounder Skatepark’s holistic design will reach beyond the city of Valparaiso to become a regional hub for the skating community — creating space for people of many interests, ages, abilities and locations to gather — to have fun, to be active, to learn, and to share in both failure and success. Building a skatepark as a space that will nurture the community of Valparaiso will spread benefits to many other communities across northern Indiana and beyond.
Design: DugOut Design Studios
Site Engineering & Surveying: Abonmarche
Advocacy: Driftwood Collaborative
Contact Us today to learn more about our practice.
Team Spotlight: Tom Runkle, Senior Landscape Architect & Project Manager
Abonmarche is lucky to have some of the industry’s most talented and experienced landscape architects. In celebration of Landscape Architecture Month, we had the pleasure of sitting down with Senior Landscape Architect and Project Manager Tom Runkle to talk about his journey and experiences in the field.
Tom told us his story of finding his calling in landscape architecture.
“As a teen, I had a natural inclination towards drawing and design. In high school, I took various drafting and architecture classes that only fueled my passion further. Upon graduating high school, I enrolled in college – intending to major in architecture. However, during my first year, I took an introductory class in landscape architecture and worked on a few studio projects that involved designing outdoor spaces.”
“That’s when it hit me – landscape architecture was a better fit for me. I was drawn to the idea of creating beautiful, functional outdoor spaces that could positively impact people’s lives. Since then, I’ve been fortunate enough to pursue a career in landscape architecture and have never looked back.”
In his work at Abonmarche, Tom emphasizes his focus on working closely with clients to listen, and to understand their needs and their vision.
“Collaboration is essential to the success of any project, and it’s our job as landscape architects to educate our clients on what landscape architecture is and what is possible for their landscape. My approach is grounded in the balance of client needs, creative design solutions, budgets, and constructability based on the circumstances of each respective project.”
Tom’s recent work on community-driven built projects across West Michigan and Northern Indiana include the brand new New Buffalo Dune Walk in New Buffalo, Michigan; the St. Joseph Water Taxi Station 3 in Benton Harbor, Michigan; traffic safety improvements at Mishawaka High School; New Buffalo’s Waterfront Master Plan; and St. Joseph Sports Park in St. Joseph, Michigan.
As a company, we are proud to have landscape architects like Tom on our team, who are dedicated to creating beautiful, sustainable outdoor spaces that enhance people’s lives.
Contact Us today to learn more about our landscape architecture practice.
New SMC Athletics Facility Shepherds New Era of Student Life at Southwestern Michigan College (SMC)
The architectural team at Abonmarche worked closely with SMC to define the school’s primary goals for the new space. In addition to serving as a home-base for all athletic programs, 1st Source Bank Fieldhouse will host students and community members for a wide range of events such as commencement ceremonies, concerts, and the like.
“This entire project has been a catalyst for recruitment, bringing back athletics to SMC while also enhancing the student life experience for all students working toward completing their education,” said Arvin Delacruz, Architect, AIA, NCARB, at Abonmarche. “We focused on creating a well-rounded experience for the student athletes – but we also wanted this space to be something all Roadrunners and the community at large can be proud of.
“SMC has a legacy of bringing high value amenities to the collegiate options young people have across Michigan – and this new addition will continue that tradition.”
New gymnasium features include a state-of-the-art technology suite of digital screens and scoreboards, a total renovation of the court floor, and retractable bleachers. The new facility will support the launch of all-new basketball, volleyball, and wrestling programs at SMC.
Support spaces include:
New locker rooms for the home team and updated lockers for visiting team
Training area with therapy and cold bathing tub
Team laundry facility and equipment storage
Suite of Athletic Director, coaches and administrative offices
Second level officials room
Second level lounge suite
Additional upgrades include new flooring, lighting and paint, new guest restrooms, and elevator access.
Even within a tight timeline driven by the school’s need to start hosting activities in advance of the Fall 2022 athletic season, the building was kept operational as design and construction were being completed.
“This project featured a high level of complexity within a pressed timeline, and the design team and owner were focused on being mindful of the need for this building to maintain operations while construction was underway,” Delacruz noted. “When athletes began arriving on campus ahead of the school year, they were able jump right into training.”
ACEC/Michigan Honors Abonmarche as 2021 Firm of the Year
Benton Harbor, Michigan –Abonmarche is the newest recipient of the prestigious 2021 Firm of the Year Award bestowed annually by the American Council of Engineering Companies (ACEC) of Michigan.
The award, considered the top honor at ACEC/Michigan’s annual Engineering & Surveying Excellence Awards, seeks to shine a spotlight on an ACEC member firm that excels in community engagement, advancement of the engineering profession, and ACEC involvement.
Abonmarche’s roots in community service run deep. For many years, our firm has served as a leader in supporting communities through active volunteerism and charitable donations. In 2020, our leadership developed Philanthropic and Voluntary PTO programs to support the passions of their staff. Abonmarche employees also enjoy a flexible work-life balance that enables them to accomplish goals outside of work, in addition to their career goals.
Our focus on client service is something we stress every minute of every day,” said Chris Cook, President of Abonmarche. “We have invested heavily in leadership training and in the advancement of each of our staff members’ industry certifications, along with a very successful internal technical staff development program.”
In addition to serving on several ACEC committees and forums, Abonmarche regularly mentors emerging firms. Our staff also often serve as a liaison between ACEC/Michigan, local governments, and several state agencies, helping to establish meaningful connections while advancing ACEC/Michigan goals.
“Thank you to ACEC/Michigan, the member firms who have counseled and advised us, our clients, and our staff, for all of the support you’ve provided us as we’ve grown,” said Cook. “We are proud to serve as an active member of ACEC/Michigan, and we are honored to be selected as the ACEC/Michigan 2021 Firm of the Year.”
ACEC/Michigan presented the 2021 Firm of the Year Award to Abonmarche at its annual Engineering & Surveying Excellence Awards Gala, held virtually Friday, February 26, 2021. For more information regarding the awards submission and selection process, visit www.acecmi.org/engineering–surveying-excellence. To learn more about Abonmarche, visit www.abonmarche.com.
Abonmarche Brings Community Crossings Grant to Northern Indiana
The Community Crossings Matching Grant program is part of Indiana Governor Eric J. Holcomb’s Next Level Roads program, a 20-year, fully funded plan to enhance Indiana’s highways and local roads by awarding communities grants for shovel-ready local road construction projects.
Over the last five years, Indiana has awarded more than $830 million in matching funds to support local road and bridge projects around Indiana.
Abonmarche has been instrumental in helping several communities secure grant funding for local road projects, and it is our goal to bring this grant and its benefits to more of the Northern Indiana communities we serve – helping cities, towns and counties complete additional projects in their jurisdiction to spur community growth and development.
Projects eligible for funding through Community Crossings include road resurfacing, bridge rehabilitation, road reconstruction, small structure replacements, and Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) compliance in connection with road projects. Material costs for chip sealing and crack filling operations are also eligible for funds.
While this grant presents great opportunities to Hoosier communities, it also presents many hurdles to those who want to apply.
THE CHALLENGE TO INDIANA COMMUNITIES
The grant application and management process can be overwhelming for municipalities of any size, but particularly those communities on the smaller side. Community leaders are trying to balance budgets and staffing limits with the need for supplying added value, community improvements, and future planning.
Each project submitted to the Indiana Department of Transportation (INDOT) for funding is carefully evaluated based on need, traffic volume, local support, the impact on connectivity and mobility within the community, and regional economic significance, noted INDOT in a January 2021 news release. The hoops municipalities need to jump through are significant, but hiring a full-service firm like Abonmarche can make grants like Community Crossings attainable.
“We’ve become very well-versed in how the grant works because we started working with it as soon as INDOT released it in 2016 and have continued non-stop every call for projects that has occurred,” says Matt Keiser, Project Manager at Abonmarche Valparaiso. “As the grant and its administration has evolved, we’ve modified our processes to embrace these modifications with our community leaders. We’ve found that working directly with the Public Works Directors and Clerk-Treasurers, we can properly manage all of the complex moving parts and timeframes involved within the confines of the grant requirements.”
DID YOU KNOW?
Community Crossings is open to all towns, cities, and county government units in the State of Indiana.
The Community Crossings grant gives approximately $160 million/year, and there are many communities who have lost out, by being unprepared or unresponsive to the grant deadlines.
To be eligible for the Community Crossings grant, a municipality must reassess their roadways every two years and update their Pavement Asset Management Plan every year.
Matching funds range from 50 to 75% depending on the size of the community.
INDOT calls for Community Crossings projects twice each year.
The next call for projects is planned to be in July of 2021.
For smaller entities that don’t have the funds and/or staffing, the Community Crossings Matching Grant can be a huge undertaking to try to accomplish in-house.
“This grant gives you the ability to bring tangible improvements to your community, while staying focused on all of the day-to-day work involved in keeping your community on track and running smoothly”, Keiser notes. “Working with our firm on this grant can save valuable time and resources, taking the minutiae off the backs of everyone from superintendents to road commissioners and public works staff so that they can focus on their everyday work.”
Because the grant process is so involved for Community Crossings, we have touchpoints with our clients throughout the entire year, keeping them up-to-date on progress, upcoming deadlines, and getting the grant off the ground and running in their project.
A STREAMLINED GRANT MANAGEMENT PROCESS
Since an INDOT/LTAP approved Pavement Asset Management Plan is required, Abonmarche completes a field assessment of every road segment, utilizing the PASER Rating System. When the assessment is complete, we analyze the results and create a comprehensive Pavement Asset Management Plan, based on the required elements to qualify for the grant.
Abonmarche then can offer assistance in the selection of the projects to be submitted for grant application. After the project list is finalized, our team helps prepares the grant application along with all of the necessary documentation required for submittal.
Once grant funding is awarded, Abonmarche creates the plans, specifications, and bid documents to secure pricing meeting the States requirements for Public purchasing. For many of our clients, we have also provided construction management services for the duration of the projects to ensure the projects are built to the design standards and the grant application.
“Our fees are stable, and our clients know how much our fees will be for their next years of planning,” Keiser says. “There’s a layer of transparency we build into our process that helps these communities plan for the future in a way that they might not otherwise be able to. That element of planning ahead, and knowing which roads need work ahead of time, is invaluable.”
For more information about how Abonmarche can help bring Community Crossings grant funding to your area, contact Matt Keiser at (219) 246-4195 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Team Spotlight: Janice Mueller, CADD Tech
Janice Mueller, a CADD Tech at Abonmarche, has been with our firm for more than 20 years, making her one of our resident experts on all things Abonmarche.
Early Bird or Night Owl: Early Bird
Coffee or Tea: Tea
East Coaster or Out West: Out West
Favorite Travel Spot: Havasu Falls, an area of waterfalls on the Havasupai Indiana Reservation located in the Grand Canyon, Arizona
Creative Outlet: Needlepoint of rock concert tickets. I’m working on one from a Rolling Stones concert that my husband I went to a few years back.
Favorite Stones song: Start Me Up
How did your career first take shape?
I earned my degree in Interior Design from Purdue University, and I spent a few years doing corporate and residential design in Fort Wayne.
How did you make the shift to CADD?
At the beginning of my career, there was no CADD; we were all drafting. I went back to school and earned a second degree in CADD at Southwest Michigan College (SMC), and my next-door neighbor, worked at Abonmarche, heard that I was studying CADD. Shortly after that, I started as a CADD Technician at Abonmarche, and I never left!
From your view, what is the most noticeable change in the industry?
The precision in technology is the biggest change I’ve seen throughout the years. When everyone was beginning to make the jump from drafting to CADD – that felt like such a huge shift. Before, you could never draw that precisely. The technology we now have at our fingertips is incredible.
What is your area of focus at Abonmarche?
I work with our surveying and land development teams, as well as with builders and contractors who build homes. I collaborate with a client to position each house on its lot correctly, taking into consideration a number of competing factors, such as zoning requirements, easements, drainage, municipal services and natural slope of the land for septic design. Many times, it’s in a subdivision that our own team has designed and developed which is really neat to be able to work on.
When people hand you the plans for a new home, it’s a really rewarding experience to be able to look at the land and the work that needs to be done to create that home, and help manifest that reality for them.
A Tech Company Tackles the U.S. Camp Industry: UltraCamp Offices In Niles, Michigan
UltraCamp, a Michigan-based tech company providing camp management software, has been helping camp organizations across the country run better so that their camp staffs can spend more time doing the things they love.
UltraCamp’s origin story begins with its founders fusing their passion for active lifestyles with their knowledge of summer camps into a business that runs the digital side of summer camp operations. Today, the company successfully runs the management software for around 800 camps throughout the United States.
“We help camps do more with less work by giving them the power to track attendance, automate billing tasks through payment plans, create new donor relationships, manage the entire staff application process, streamline the registration process, and much more,” notes the UltraCamp website. “All of this helps directors and managers recover the time they need to focus on what is really important: CAMP.”
After finding its new home base in a building in downtown Niles, Michigan, UltraCamp selected Abonmarche to design the architecture and interiors of the space. Previously occupying part of an old historical post office building, UltraCamp sought to up its square footage to accommodate its full staff, as well as break away from its mundane, uninspired previous digs. In addition to serving their needs on the business side, they wanted to inject their own active lifestyle mindset into a built environment.
“Our role as designers in this project, and in any project, is to extrapolate what our client is feeling, how their culture works – and expand and elevate those feelings into a built environment,” says Arvin Delacruz, Architect, AIA, NCARB, Abonmarche. UltraCamp’s culture was already very defined; it was our job to then articulate that in the built form.”
With an open, progressive, active spirit already in place, UltraCamp tasked the Abonmarche design team with creating a space that:
Would be a place of activity. “A rock climbing wall was a must.”
Could be used by a variety of age groups. “Their kids, ranging anywhere from toddler to teenage age, often come there.”
Have a variety of spaces for both collaborative and focus work
Include spaces that were multifunctioning
“They also said that, whatever we design – food was very important to them. The fellowship that comes with gathering around a meal is really engrained in their culture. The staff and their families really enjoy spending time together, and so they wanted their space to reflect and support that.”
UltraCamp seldom has clients come into their physical space, and much of their work has been done remotely in the past. A new workspace would enable everyone to come together into one space. While remote work was certainly effective in running the business, the UltraCamp team wanted an environment that people could come together and collaborate more easily in.
A Layered Workplace Strategy
The new UltraCamp space is split evenly between traditional office workspaces and lifestyle activity spaces for their staff, such as a rock climbing wall, foam ball pit, etc. Across 19,401 square feet of office space, 87% of the workspace is collaboration and/or amenity space, with primary individual workspaces making up the remaining 13%.
Although each staff member has an assigned workstation, there are no private, enclosed offices, and team members are not confined to their workstations.
“The mentality is that your office is the entire building. Even though the formal office square footage is small, the team makes use of the entire space. This project in particular featured a lot of layering of spaces, of blending amenity-focused and work-focused spaces.”
“We were constantly thinking about elevating quality of life, about changing postures throughout the work day, and of all of the physical ramifications that come with being inside a building for a good portion of your day. We were also paying attention to the natural amenities that the building gave us – for example, the incredible natural daylighting running through the space. UltraCamp is a wonderful case study of that.”
In addition to a rock-climbing wall and an underground laser tag facility, Abonmarche outfitted the space with a suspended gerbil tube that both children and adults can crawl through for a playful moment of fun.
“There was this suspended tube, originally meant for underground water storage, in its bright orange natural color that prompted us to look at a lot of materials in a new way. Instead of concealing this element, our design team incorporated it into the overall schematic design. And beyond that, how do you look at an IT firm in a new way? These were types of questions we were concerned with answering through design.”
The second level opens up to an elevated “living room” space. Beyond is an expansive harvest table and a fully equipped kitchen, for both their own use and for having meals catered there for the staff.
Injecting Active Lifestyle Aesthetics
The UltraCamp space evokes a contemporary, playful aesthetic. The visual texture, furnishings and materials all reflect the invigorating lifestyle they have in place. All of those elements trickle up to how they’re able to create a positive impact for the clients they work with.
“This project was a study in materiality for our team. How do you transform really mundane materials, and elevate them so that they become an expression of design? How do you look at materials in a new way?”
UltraCamp wanted something you could live and be comfortable in, but at the same time show this really high tech world they operate in. It was about striking that balance to say, “This is a forward-thinking company, but one that is also mindful of the psychology of space – and of comfort.”
“We selected very bold colors that aren’t necessarily trendy but that speak to an active lifestyle. Set against a backdrop of neutral white are the bright oranges of the gerbil tube and rock climbing wall, bold blues and bright yellows as accent colors. We also wanted to bring in a natural element, to again connect with that active lifestyle culture. The sliding barn doors are made of recycled wood, and provide that warmer, natural tone.”
Staff and visitors feel equally at home settling down on the couch with a cup of coffee to have a high-level business meeting outside of the boardroom.
Stepping Outside the Box
“This project was especially gratifying because we were allowed to think outside the box. We were not confined to it having it be ‘this way or that way’. We let the space speak to us about how it needed to function, and what it should feel like. It still needed to function properly for the client, and so we paid close attention to creating spaces that the UltraCamp team would really use. We were able to meet the client’s directive – and go beyond that to elevate what they thought was possible.”
In addition to bringing all of UltraCamp’s staff together into one space, the new workspace also serves as a community center for downtown Niles, hosting various gatherings as an integral part of the downtown Niles scene since moving in June 2017. The new UltraCamp offices were a featured project in the Michigan Municipal League, the regional community business consultancy based in Ann Arbor, MI.
“This space was intended as a catalyst for continued growth in other business in Niles. The goal was to have people thinking, ‘If this company can do something like this in Niles, then I can too.'”
“And this is a space where Abonmarche is able to really shine as a firm. The acumen of design is not relegated to region – we’re a mid-sized Michigan/Indiana firm with a lot of powerful ideas that can translate to real community transformation.”
Abonmarche Named to Moody on the Market’s 20 Best Places to Work in Southwest Michigan – Class of 2019
by Pat Moody
If Clark Kent hadn’t been a newspaper reporter, his alter ego of Superman would have fit in very well at Benton Harbor’s renowned team at Abonmarche. Especially, his ability to leap tall buildings in a single bound which leads the Abonmarche team to finding the right solution every time, or their ability to create a web of intricate thinkers unafraid to create a joint venture to come up with the best super team every time. The multi-disciplinary nature of their everyday work and some of the amazing transformations stemming from their work render the perceived “wow factor,” to an everyday occurrence. Take a moment to read some of the great things they’ve been doing over the years and why employees stick around for a long time and cherish the time they have together as a team.
What is the name of the business you are nominating?
Who are the owner(s) and/or principals in this company?
Chris Cook and John Linn
How many people work at the company you are nominating?
Tell us the story behind the nominated company. What does it do, and what sets them apart from other companies in the region?
I have worked here for almost 26 years. We are a multi-disciplinary firm with engineering architecture, landscape architecture and surveying. We put our clients first and listen to their needs and wants and always strive to give them the best service possible for the best price.
In your own words, why do you think this company deserves to be declared to be one of the 20 Best Places to Work in Michigan’s Great Southwest?
I love it here and wouldn’t have been here almost 26 years if I didn’t! They are great to their employees and are actively involved in the communities volunteering and sponsoring events. They encourage us to become involved. Recently an employee passed away and the family member lived out of town. Abonmarche paid for all of the food for the service and our office staff took care of ordering it and having it delivered so as to take some of the burden off the family from out of town.
What makes workers proud to say they work there, and keeps them a part of the team?
We do great work and it shows – Road projects…Pedestrian bridge and trail by the Saint Joseph Water plant…The Howard Ice Rink just to name a few.
Let’s pretend you’re writing a review for Yelp! or Trip Advisor. Give us your best recommendation for the nominated company that would make the rest of us wish we worked there, too.
A great company with great employees and longevity within the community serving Southwest Michigan for forty years.
What three key words best describe why this company is a Best Places to Work caliber company?
Talented employees…2. Innovative thinking…3. Dedicated to good service
As a Best Places to Work company “Super Hero,” what are the two most magical “Super Powers” this company has on a day-to-day basis? (i.e., Ability to read minds, fly, invisibility, etc) And why?
Super Power One Able to leap tall buildings in a single bound – find a solution to any difficult project circumstance
Super Power Two Create a web of intricate thinkers and not afraid to joint venture to come up with the best super team
Tell us about the leadership of the nominated company and what they do to:
A] Keep spirits and motivation high? Raises and acknowledgements of a job well done
B] Keep innovation and fresh ideas advancing? In house training encourages additional training at owners’ expense
C] Keep communications open? Quarterly luncheon meetings with all staff and continuous correspondences. The owners’ are active members within the work place stopping by to discuss projects, intranet updates daily, etc.
Explain a specific “wow!” moment in this company’s history that is virtually “Hall of Fame” or “Best Practices” worthy, as an example to other companies in the region.
Hard to think of one right now as seems like we have wow moments everyday so they don’t stand out as anything out of the ordinary
Best Places to Work have a reputation for not only working hard, but also for playing hard. How does the nominated company:
A] Honor or reward success? Monetary bonuses, anniversary gifts, etc.
B] Socialize as a team? After hours get-togethers, Christmas parties, picnics, etc.
C] Get involved in community events? Sponsorships of numerous events and employees actively involved in local communities: coaches, committee members, etc.
D] Celebrate life? Bed Race and after party Dairy Queen Blizzard Days, etc.
Write a brief, but compelling, recruitment ad telling people about why they should come and work there, too.
We are a fun group to be around and many of our employees and previous employees who have moved to other states stay in touch – friendships are born that last a lifetime
What one thing is special about your nominated company that most people in the community have no idea actually happens there, but should be shouted from the rooftops because it’s that cool?
Generosity-giving to others in need and not expecting publicity or notoriety… bake sale, fundraisers, etc. to help cancer patient’s family…
Give us three employee perks or benefits that you think make the company you have nominated worthy of a Best Places to Work trophy?
If this is your company and you win, write the best headline ever for your company newsletter describing your successful selection to the list, and be as specific as you can about how you would celebrate the win if money were no object.
Abonmarche Wins Best Places to Work Companies 2019 – thank you all for voting for us and you should be proud as you are the reason this company is so successful. Please take a day of your choice off to celebrate on us! Thank you again for making us a Great Place to Work!
Tell us anything else you want about this company that you suddenly realize we haven’t asked you about, but you’re sure will be the thing that puts you squarely into the winner’s circle! (Wait a minute! Can you put a square in a circle?)
Bed Race Champions 2018
Teamwork is key to a great company and being proud of your place of employment and co-workers is essential. Again I would not be here for going on 26 years if this was not the best place to work!