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French Lick resort builds addition to gain attraction

French Lick, Ind., draws tourists looking to enjoy the area’s resort and casino or visit the hometown of basketball legend Larry Bird. In an effort to increase tourism, French Lick Resort’s parent company, Cook Group, is investing in a $15.5 million expansion to its existing conference and event center. F.A. Wilhelm Construction is serving as general contractor on this project.

French Lick Event Center Addition

The project will add an estimated 58,000 square-feet onto the existing 109,000-square-foot facility. This addition will include a 22,000-square-foot ballroom, with flexibility to be configured three different ways. Additionally, the space will have eight breakout rooms.

According to Brent Conner, engineer for the Cook Group, the addition will allow for the resort draw more companies and organizations who are looking for large event space.

“French Lick is competing with other regions to support conventions. This is one type of business that the resort would like to grow,” said Conner. “The resort already offers a lot of amenities and services. This addition will just allow us to be more competitive.”

Kurt Schelbecker, Wilhelm project manager, agrees this addition will give the resort greater opportunity to host larger conventions and special events.

“It is an extensive addition to the French Lick convention center. Plus, the access we are creating in the back of the center will allow greater ease to bring in event equipment,” said Schlebecker.

French Lick Parking Garage

Construction on the project began in October 2013. The addition is being built between an existing parking garage and the French Lick event center, connected to a century-old hotel. In 2006, Wilhelm served as general contractor on the resort’s four-level, 800-car, post-tensioned parking structure which spans 275,280 square-feet.

“We are still putting up the building structure and framework, then we will start to enclose it,” said Schlebecker. “By late April we will begin to put the skin on the frame and make the structure water tight.”

Because the addition is being built between existing structures, there are some unique challenges that both Cook Group, who also serves as the architect and engineer, and Wilhelm have had to address.

“It can be more difficult to do an addition than build a new, free-standing building. It is a little bit like painting yourself out of a room,” said Schlebecker.

“First, we had to deal with poor soil conditions. So we looked at several foundation methods. This will be the first time we are using rammed aggregate piers,” said Conner. “Next, this space runs a lot of the utility lines including the storm lines, sewage lines, and fiber optics. We had to be careful not to disturb those lines. The progress is going well considering the challenges we’ve faced including a harsh winter.”

Even with all of the unforeseen difficulties, the project is ahead of schedule. This is because of the collaborative working relationship between Wilhelm and the Cook Group.

“It has been a pleasure working with the Cook Group. The benefit to having the owner as the architect is the quick response,” said Schlebecker. “We receive immediate answers to our questions, allowing a smoother building process.”

The addition is scheduled for completion by January 2015, but Schlebecker is optimistic the expansion will be finished by November 2014. As general contractor for the project, Wilhelm is responsible for coordinating the installation of the utilities and seeing the project through to the end.

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