The fun (and work) starts now on "Waukee Railroad Pergola"

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The fun (and work) starts now on "Waukee Railroad Pergola"


WAUKEE, Iowa, March 10, 2017 -- After nearly five years of meetings, planning, designing and fundraising, now the fun finally starts happening with "Waukee Railroad Pergola -- in the shadow of the rails."

By that, we mean the work starts happening the week of March 12 in making, pressing, firing, coloring, glazing and building the huge, $1.1 million public art installatio.  It will stand as a gateway to the Raccoon River Valley Trail on the west edge of this town, which is located on the west edge of the Des Moines metro area.

The "pergola" -- a term for a structure like an arbor or gateway -- will stretch more than 340 feet along and above the RRVT's trailhead in Waukee.  In bright colors of red, white and black, its canopy will be 15 feet high and 18 feet wide.  It will include a building with public restrooms, already in place, the improved paved parking area and a "colonade" of lighted "bollards" along U.S. Highway 6.  It will be lighted at night. The colorful installation will be the first part of the RRVT that many trail users encounter when they come streaming out of Des Moines on the metro trails system, which connects to the RRVT here in Waukee.

The goal is to have it completed by the end of this August.

Here is the artists’ conception of how the huge “Waukee Railroad Pergola – in the shadow of the rails” will look at the RRVT trailhead on the west side of Waukee.

But by late in 2017 or spring of 2018, trail users will be seeing additional art installations -- using components of the larger "pergola" design in Waukee -- as they continue along and around the 89-paved trail. 

Planning and fundraising are nearly completed now for another $180,000 worth of smaller installations at five other trailheads -- Dallas Center, Perry, Cooper, Winkleman Switch and Jefferson.  They'll be put together using the same general theme, "in the shadow of the rails," which refers to the railroad heritage of the trail.  At least four other trail towns are considering installations of the same design in coming years.

The design is the work of nationally-known "transportation artist" David Dahlquist, a sculptor, and his colleagues at RDG Planning & Design, based in downtown Des Moines.

Starting Monday, March 13 in the studio there, artists will begin working clay that is custom made in Paoli, Wis., for use on art installations in freeze/thaw environments.  Frank Hoifeldt, RDG's project administrator for "in the shadow of the rails," and artist Brian Frederiksen put together some fascinating stats for us. Among them:

--They will produce 7,758 clay tiles for use on the installations, with 6,354 for use at the Waukee trailhead and 1,404 for peripheral trail markers.  Each of those tiles weighs 8 pounds, and they're made two at a time in a 60-ton hydraulic press.  They'll weigh a total of 31 tons when completed.

--Those will be fired in kilns at 1,946 degrees (Fahrenheit) for 40 hours. There will be 365 of the tiles fired per week.  Total volume of the glaze and underglaze used on the tiles is 120 gallons.

--Each tile is moved seven times before it is crated for delivery, and that amounts to 217 tons of handling.

--The tile making is scheduled to be completed June 19,  The firing of the tall columns is expected to be completed between April 4 and July 10, with the shorter "bollards" alongside the trail completed by Aug. 10.

Meanwhile, the City of Waukee, which will own the "Pergola" installation, will accept bids on Wednesday, March 15, for the construction of vehicle parking lots on both the east and west sides of County Road R22, which divdes the trailhead.  "The disruption to trail users should be minimal," said Matt Jermier, the city's parks & recreation director. "It is anticiipated that each parking lot will be closed down one day," and he noted those closures will be announced ahead of time on the websites of both the City of Waukee and the RRVT Association.

Jermier said that during construction of the actual "Pergola," the trail  will remain open.  "There will be periods of time that the 'Pergola' area will be closed, but bicyclists will still be able to access the trail," which leaves that site in three directions.

So, this will be a spring and summer of excellent spectating for "sidewalk superintendents" who like to watch progress on construction projects.

The artist Dahlquist said recently he always looks forward to getting projects to this stage, after all the planning, designing and fundraising are completed.

"It's always more fun when we're getting into the hands-on of making the components, the color tests and then the nitty-gritty of putting it all together," Dahlquist said on a cold and snowy Feb. 9 while he and his team were making site visits to the other trailheads where smaller installations will be erected. "Maybe it's not as much fun as imagining the big picture, but it's what we have to do to make a project happen."

Dahlquist is an artist who works in many forms.  His early recognition was for sculpture and tilework.  In 1986, he received his first commission for a larger "public art installation," and "fortunately we have now done approxiately 70 of them over the past 25 to 30 years, all over this country."  The largest of them currently include train stations, Interstate highway rest stops, subway platforms and more. In central Iowa, two of his biggest works are the "Art Bridge" on the High Trestle Trail and the 120-foot-tall "Prairie Paragon" tower in the Paragon Office Park in Urbandale.

Key leaders in the fundraising campaign that has been so successful for the "Waukee Railroad Pergola -- in the shadow of the rails" project have been Jim Miller of rural Waukee and Randy Jensen of West Des Moines and Lake Panorama. Both are active supporters of the trail, the RRVT Association and the Waukee Area Arts Council's public art committee.   Major grants have been received from the Iowa Great Places program; the Vision Iowa Program's Community Attractions & Tourism fund; the City of Waukee; Prairie Meadows Casino, Racetrack & Hotel; the W.T. and Edna M. Dahl Trust, based in Des Moines, and Nationwide Insurance, which employs 4,000 people in Des Moines. There have been many other donations from city, county and state governemnts, as well as from businesses, organizations and individuals.


Questions? You can reach the author by email at


Sculptor David Dahlquist and project administrator Frank Hoifeldt are shown with a sample they’ve made of one of the colorful, clay tile-wrapped columns they’ll build for the public art installation.

Artist Brian Frederiksen holds one of the 7,758 tiles that will be produced at the RDG Planning & Design art studio in downtown Des Moines for use in building the “Waukee Railroad Pergola.”  More will be made later for the installations at trailheads in other trail communities.

Sculptor David Dahlquist is shown here on a snowy Feb. 9 at the RRVT trailhead in Jefferson, looking for the best site there to install components of his “In the shadow of the rails,” after the main installation is built in Waukee.

Here was the crew inspecting the RRVT trailhead in Perry where components of the “In the shadow of the rails” will be erected.  Left to right are Perry city administrator Sven Peterson, sculptor David Dahlquist, in the far background Scott Crawford of RDG Planning & Design, Doug Adamson of RDG, and Josh Shields of Bolton & Menk engineering.

On the site inspection trip on Feb. 9 in Cooper, here were the six members of the public art team. On the left are Scott Crawford of RDG; Michelle Fields, of the RRVT Association board of directors, Dan Towers, the Greene County Conservation director and RRVT Association board member; right front Randy Jensen, of the RRVT Association public art committee and in back Doug Adamson and David Dahlquist of RDG.







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