Steve Janke’s eyes were first opened to the field of recreational construction in 2000, when he was working for a firm concentrating on underground utility projects. He began to notice that contracts for such projects as parks and boat docks were only seeing attention from one or two bidders. This seemed unusual.
Janke asked his boss why the firm didn’t bid on those projects, and the answer was that it wasn’t the firm’s expertise. It quickly became Janke’s, however. “I came from a different background, a contractor that did all types of work, so I knew a little bit about that type of stuff, grading and landscaping and concrete work,” he says.
Soon after, he formed his own company, Janke General Contractors. It was tough to get established, he says, but one wouldn’t know it from hearing about his first project: a $90,000 rehabilitation of a dam. Janke acknowledges the project modestly. “It involved some concrete repair,” he says, “and the lowest bidder got the job as long as [that bidder] had the basic qualifications.” Today, his firm has moved on to even bigger works, including the recent recon-
struction of Wanick Park in Sherwood Park, Wisconsin, a $3 million endeavor that tested the reach and weather-resistance of Janke’s workforce.
Conceived by landscape architect SAA Design Group, the redone 34-acre park consists of a central pathway surrounded by different features, including a great lawn, athletic fields (for tennis, basketball, volleyball, baseball, and horseshoes), a splash pad, an amphitheater, a sledding hill, an ice rink, a four-season warming house, and almost a mile of hiking trails. Accent berms create unique seating pockets and views, and “the park has a lot of rocks, which came from New York state, that are structured to create a feature that looks like dominos leaning on each other,” Janke says.
The Wanick Park project might seem like a major challenge when you consider that Sherwood Park is located two hours from Janke General Contractors’ headquarters in Athens, Wisconsin, but Janke says it wasn’t a problem. “The guys stay over there during the week, and we had a really good superintendant who stayed there and took care of everything,” he says. “I only had to go over there once a month.”
A bigger challenge was the weather. “Rain, more rain, and more rain,” Janke recalls. The first step of the project was removing some of the site’s dirt, and the soil in Sherwood Park is heavy clay—hard to work with at the best of times and almost impossible when it gets wet. “When we began construction work in April 2013, there was so much rain [that] our guys would get to the job site on Monday and not be able to work for two or three days,” Janke says. Ultimately, however, his firm extracted 150,000 yards of dirt—in part to create the park’s pond—and used much of it to build up the sledding hill.
Janke notes the Wanick Park project was large for his company, which typically works in the $250,000–$1 million range and has around 10 projects going at any given moment. Other major projects have included the $1.9 million rehabilitation of Medicine Lake Trail near Maple Grove, Minnesota—which involved 20,000 feet of trail, 1,000 feet of boardwalk on helical piling, and a 160-foot prefabricated trail bridge with drive-pile and concrete abutments—and the replacement of 7,000 feet of railing in the Appleton area for the Wisconsin Department of Transportation, completed by Janke General Contractors’ fabrication division, which manufactures and installs
When asked what advice he would offer to others seeking to follow in his footsteps, Janke says he might advise against it. Contracting is a tough business, regardless of the economy, largely due to ever-changing state and federal regulations—plus, there’s the weather. Still, Janke enjoys the business. “You take the good with the bad,” he says.