Engineering Corporate Citizenship

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The doors officially opened to VAA’s Sioux Falls, SD office with an Open House last week. The gathering welcomed clients, vendors and school representatives. Shawn Vanhove, PE, Associate / Sr. Structural Engineer, manages the office bringing VAA’s engineering and design services closer to its clients in the Dakotas. “This office allows us to be more available to our clients,” says Vanhove, “being accessible is a priority for VAA, along with expanding our reach with new, meaningful relationships.”

The Sioux Falls office opening follows the recent announcement of VAA doubling its Minneapolis corporate space slated for a tentative completion in early 2018. For location of the Sioux Falls office, visit our Contact Us page.

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Mulch. If there’s one thing VAA’s Community Outreach team learned this summer, it’s that piles of woodchips can enrich more than just soil. A group of seven VAA employees volunteered to mulch five areas throughout the grounds of Camp Eden Wood, a fully accessible facility offering camp and respite programs for people with disabilities.

Called out by True Friends staff as one of the camp’s most noticeable and lasting improvements, the team distributed about eight cubic yards of mulch to the areas around the main office / camp entrance, camper dorms and a flower garden. Some of the nearly 100 bags of mulch used were donated by Maple Crest Landscape Nursery in Medina, MN. VAA has partnered with True Friends over the past decade on a variety of volunteer projects. Championed by dedicated staff, our support of this organization stems from a genuine investment in improving the experience and environment for campers and their families.

Serving about 4,000 children and adults annually, True Friends is an organization dedicated to providing uplifting experiences to individuals with a range of physical and developmental disabilities.

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VAA is doubling the size of its Plymouth, MN headquarters to accommodate growth in services and new amenities for employees. With the addition of 35,000 square feet, the new space allows for approximately 90 employees and will feature two kitchen areas, on-site storage for document archives, a large-group training center and fitness and game rooms to support employee wellness.

The company relocated to its current location in the spring of 2013 and reached capacity as employee numbers grew 60 percent in four short years. The growth spurt to over 175 employees is the result of VAA broadening its engineering and design capabilities from its long-standing services in structural engineering and equipment layout to added depth in civil, mechanical, electrical, marine, process engineering; rail design and industrial architecture. In addition to the Minnesota expansion, a branch office in Sioux Falls, SD recently opened to support VAA’s existing clients in the Dakotas.

“As we grow our existing relationships in markets fitting our Vision 2020 plan, VAA can offer more diverse services to its clients,” said Mark Mielke, PE, P.Eng, VAA Partner overseeing the project. “The 2017 expansion reinforces our Vision + Values - it’s equally important to provide a great work environment for our employees to be comfortable and engaged.”

The firm’s industrial architecture group created the plans pulling inspiration from VAA’s original Berkshire office renovation developed by RSP Architects. Construction will be completed by Bauer Design Build, LLC who also worked with VAA on its 2013 office. The expansion is in the construction phase with a tentative completion date early next year and will provide momentum toward celebrating VAA’s 40th anniversary in 2018.

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With “We CAN Solve Hunger” as the team’s motto, VAA debuted a massive Rubik’s Cube structure at the 2017 Canstruction event hosted at the Mall of America. It was a privilege to participate for the ninth consecutive year and be a part of the six-build team’s donation of over 50,000 meals to Second Harvest Heartland. Thank you to our generous donors and employees who contributed to this event.

“Participating this year as member of the build team gave me a new appreciation for the event,” said Partner, Quin Vincent. “VAA genuinely comes together and engages as a team on all levels. We are part of a larger community and taking time to contribute in a different way is rewarding.”

Creating a nearly solid replica of the popular puzzle, the build used about 10,000 cans of non-perishable food and was shown in mid-rotation. The structure earned the “Most Cans” award in this year’s competition.

Want to see the CANstruction process in action? Watch this year’s time-lapse video to see the structure come to life. The end of the video also features VAA's donors who generously supported our cause (note Gales Design was inadvertently omitted from our donors list and we apologize for the oversight).

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For a nation subject to annual hurricanes and earthquakes, the question should be asked, how do buildings stand up under the strain of a natural disaster? While two very different approaches are taken to building designs to allow for either extreme wind speeds or high seismic (earthquake) events, the common thread is lateral forces. Acting horizontally, lateral forces try to push structures over. Without a lateral-force resisting system, buildings cannot stand against wind, seismic or other lateral forces.

In the United States, buildings are assigned one of four risk categories that determine general design criteria. An office building would typically be a Category 2. Hospitals, power generation / back-up facilities, earthquake / hurricane shelters and other structures critical to functioning in a major disaster are designated Category 4. While these categories are a nationwide standard, requirements for both high wind and high seismic design also include regionally-specific design criteria and standards for lateral-force resisting systems that vary depending on the building category.

“Preservation of life is the primary goal when designing a building in areas that experience high winds or earthquakes,” said Greg Mosier, PE, SE, an Associate and Senior Structural Engineer at VAA. “The goal when designing for wind is a strong structure...when you’re designing for earthquakes, the focus is on controlling building behavior.”

Preventing Hurricane Havoc as the Wind Blows
As demonstrated by the main characters of the well-known children’s tale, “The Three Little Pigs,” building materials have a significant impact on a structure’s strength against high winds. Materials are selected based on their performance during different tests. One method, known as the missile test, uses a compressed air cannon to launch a 15-pound, 2×4 wood stud (missile) at an assembled wall sample at over 100 mph. As a result, buildings in hurricane regions are commonly constructed using masonry or concrete for their mass and impact resistance. Other elements, like storm shutters and high-impact glass, are added to protect the windows and doors from flying debris damage.

For high wind design in a high-risk region, like along the Gulf Coast, a Category 2 building would be designed to stand up to between 160 to 180 mph winds. Buildings in Category 4, the highest designation, follow stringent and regionally-specific design standards to ensure critical buildings will take minimal damage from hurricanes and flying debris.

Design that Bends, Not Breaks
When working on high seismic building designs, it’s best to consider the paperclip. What makes the paperclip such a handy office supply is its ductility, i.e. the ability to bend without breaking or collapsing. High seismic designs strive for ductility in a building’s structural framework. The design can accommodate bending to absorb pressure from an earthquake without breaking by using ductile building materials. As a result, steel or concrete with steel reinforcements are frequently used in different structural systems like steel moment frames or concrete shearwalls.

High seismic design typically anticipates building damage and seeks to control the amount of damage with fuses, or energy-absorbing structural members. While this adds complexity and emphasis on design details, the technique allows building designs to plan for a specific mechanism and prevent fatal damage by bolstering structural elements in other areas. For example, understanding how a high-rise residential complex will react to lateral loads means the building can be designed to allow occupants to escape in the event of a disaster.

As mentioned above, high seismic building requirements vary regionally. Ground motion intensity, or the strength of the G-forces during an earthquake, is based on the location of fault lines throughout the nation. This regional designation, along with the building type and associated risk category, dictate the code requirements needed for design.

A structural engineer’s focus is creating a building in which occupants are safe. In some regions that looks like designing a hospital fortified against high winds, in others it’s an elementary school prepared to absorb the lateral forces of an earthquake.