Firm outgrows two spaces in a few short years
A.M Structural Engineering makes a new home out of what used to be a Laundromat at 112 E. Maple Street for 30 years.
Firm owner Dave Wagner's been doing local work since August 2002 and starts working from his new downtown office March 17.
Wagner began by himself in his basement, then built a space over his garage to use as an office.
Now A.M. has three engineers, an intern and a part-time bookkeeper. That over-the-garage space got crowded much more quickly than Wagner thought it would.
He went from a 12 foot by 13 foot room, to a 500 square foot space and soon to a 2,000 square foot office.
Wagner confesses that it's his wife, Kristi, who really encouraged him to go for it. He said she's the one who said, "Yeah, we can do this."
"When I built over the garage, I thought I'd have enough room to grow," he said.
Knowing that he had a relatively "good" problem even though things were a bit cramped, Wagner began looking for a new space.
"I didn't really want something right on Main Street because we're not a retail business," Wagner said.
He found the Laundromat space and knew it had potential, even though the contractors would have their work cut out for them.
It's a unique space that used to be River Falls' post office before it became the Laundromat for 30 years. Before that, Wagner hears that it was a hotel and used as a makeshift hospital during the flu pandemic of 1919.
Besides a rich history, the space also has a big vault from when it was postal facility - and many challenges.
"The building was pretty worn out," said Wagner.
He said the landlord made a number of structural improvements, and he's paying contractors to do aesthetic improvements. Between the two, A.M.'s Maple Street home has a new floor, walls and ceiling.
He said, "It's the contractor who's doing the work that really deserves the praise." That's Mike Halama with Designworks Carpentry in Hudson.
A.M. works mostly for architects, contractors and owners. Wagner said he and his associates usually get there early for contractor questions and stay late for architect questions. That's just the rhythm of the business.
He doesn't have set hours for the business but said he's generally happy if everybody gets their hours in between 6 a.m. and 6 p.m. Even that can vary, depending on when the engineering plans are due.
A.M. designs all kinds of structures and buildings, including everything from wooden decks to 10-story buildings. Wagner said his firm helped design the addition that Ezekiel Lutheran Church finished last year and will work on St. Bridget's expansion project, too.
Some may recognize a Hudson project A.M. did: the Golf View Center.
Wagner said A.M. does a lot of work with Frisbie Architects, and their new location sits just a few blocks from Frisbie's office.
Wagner used to live on Eighth Street but now lives in the town of Pleasant Valley. The firm's other two engineers live right near downtown River Falls.
Joking, they said they were worried about Wagner having to commute so far.
Wagner offers 13 years of experience and has been licensed for nine years. To become a licensed professional, engineers must pass a rigorous exam that the state administers.
One of A.M.'s engineers take his test this April - a big deal in any engineer's career.
Wagner started with a consulting engineering firm, worked for the Minnesota DOT for a while and did work on the side for many of those years. That "on-the-side" work grew enough that Wagner was burning the midnight oil and the candle at both ends.
"I was working a few too many hours on the side," he said.
Soon he and the engineers will be working their hours on Maple Street and enjoying a more spacious place in which to work them.