In 2016, the city council of Oconomowoc, Wisconsin, a lake town located around 55 miles west of Milwaukee, was considering the parameters for a project intended to revitalize the town’s waterfront area. The proposed project included a significant
overhaul of the existing public space, including replacing the boardwalk and pier, the addition of landscaping, water shore seating, new boat launches and boat slips along with enhancements to the Village Green Park space. More broadly, the project
was focused on improving both the shoreline and the quality of the lake.
The city council selected Milwaukee-based engineering and architecture firm Stantec to oversee the project, and Stantec engineer Kevin Kimmes was tasked with representing
his firm in meetings with the council. One question was whether the city’s taxpayers should be asked to fund lighting for both the upper handrails and bottom rails along the boardwalk’s railing, which extended 300 feet along the shoreline.
Kimmes knew council members would question the need for top and bottom lights, which – understandably – could be considered unnecessary. But, Kimmes was prepared. He had brought with him to the meeting a sample of dual-lighted aluminum railing
from cable railing provider Feeney. When the railing lights came on, everyone in the room was impressed with the soft, even lighting. The council opted to approve the additional expenditure.
That was just one of several obstacles that Kimmes and Stantec had to overcome to complete the seven-month long project. Some of the key challenges and considerations included:
Maintenance. The Oconomowoc Community Center had previously installed a cable rail in-fill system, with less than optimal results. The system was mismatched – it combined both steel and aluminum components – and the proximity of the
two dissimilar metals encouraged corrosion, requiring the city to repaint the steel posts every two or three years.
Moisture. The lakeshore area gets a considerable amount of moisture, and the city was worried that the continual dampness would negatively impact the boardwalk's railing system and cause it to degrade over time.
Spill Control. It can be tempting for visitors to the boardwalk to place their drink on railings, creating the chance for cups or bottles to fall into the lake. The city wanted to find a solution that would proactively avoid spills.
Color. The city’s ideal railing solution would not only offer safety to residents and visitors, but also enhance the architecture and aesthetic of the lakeshore area. Council members preferred colored railings that would help to create a
cohesive look on the lakefront.
Durability. In addition to being exposed to the elements, the boardwalk railing system would be subjected to constant public use and needed to be durable and long-lasting to withstand the ongoing “wear and tear”.
Stantec’s engineers went in search of a railing solution that would not only be unobtrusive and provide a clear view of the lake and the surrounding area, but that would also minimize corrosion and maintenance requirements while complementing the
design of the lakefront area. After researching a number of cable rail companies, Stantec ultimately selected Feeney’s DesignRail® aluminum railing
system with CableRail infill and LED lighting.
“After evaluating the various options, we determined that Feeney had the right connections and materials between posts and cable rails, which provided valuable peace of mind,” said Kimmes. “Feeney also stood out for their work in maritime
environments. Their AAMA-2604 compliant powder coating painting process and stainless steel products are great for saltwater environments, and even better in freshwater applications.”
To help prevent boardwalk visitors from placing food and drinks on top of the railings, the firm chose Feeney’s DesignRail® Elliptical Top Rail from among a broad range of top rail styles. The railings can be ordered in more than 200 colors,
which gave the project’s landscape architect the options he needed.
“The landscape designer wanted to use fun, bright pastels in the boardwalk design, and the ability to match his color specification was very important,” explained Kimmes. “Feeney’s color flexibility fit the vision seamlessly.”
The project presented several additional challenges for Badger Railing, the company charged with installing the railings. Ten ‘bumpouts’ – semi-circle outcroppings extending
from the main walkway towards the lake – were set to line the boardwalk. To achieve a sleek, curved look using straight sections of railing, the railing had to be mitered multiple times, which required patience and precise craftsmanship by the
In addition, in the center of the walkway, the railing extended out into a T-shaped fishing pier. Care had to be taken to ensure a smooth transition in the railing from one pier section to the next, as well as at the corners.
Along the Boardwalk
The end result was worth all of the effort. The boardwalk formally opened to the public in late 2017. Since that time, visitors to Fowler Lake have been able to enjoy an unimpeded view of the lake from any vantage point as they stroll along the scenic
boardwalk, which has become an integral part of the local Oconomowoc community. The area has also transformed into a major business development hub for merchants because of the significant pedestrian traffic the boardwalk generates.
Said Kimmes, “This was the coolest project I’ve worked on in a 20-year municipal engineering career. And, that’s really saying something.”