An Installation Home Run

Sign Effectz’s all-star installers come through in a pinch for the new Milwaukee Milkmen ballpark.
Sign Effectz’s all-star installers come through in a pinch for the new Milwaukee Milkmen ballpark.

The Milwaukee Milkmen are embracing their home state’s dairy connections. The new independent baseball team’s promotional videos feature police, medical workers and even a motorcycle club saluting “a team that’s udderly different” with jars of milk. So when their home stadium, the 4,000-seat Routine Field, needed similarly passionate signage, ROC Ventures (the venture capitalist behind a number of local development projects) turned to our team at Sign Effectz. ROC stands for “Return on Community,” and the Milkmen represent our city’s first American Association of Independent Professional Baseball team. 

Our designers, fabricators and installers played a big role in helping ROC Ventures get Routine Field ready for opening day on May 24, 2019. We built and installed a comprehensive sign package that included both LED-illuminated and non-illuminated wayfinding and ADA signs. Our electric signs consisted of a 40-ft. long monument sign, a 12-ft. tall channel letter sign and multiple building signs. 

WORKING WITH A MODULAR SIGN

Modular signs are signs that consist of more than one part. The modular approach enables large signs to be transported to the job site for final assembly. We used this approach on the 40-ft. Routine Field monument sign (which featured halo-lit channel letters with 2-in. standoffs) and its accompanying base. 

Regardless of how many times anyone pre-fits modular signs in the shop, often there’s an unforeseen element in the field that requires a change in how it gets assembled. Sometimes, these offsets can be huge and require additional work not accounted for in pricing; that’s what change orders are for. Nonetheless, modifications of the sign are typically needed to get them to nest properly. 

This project included six modular pieces: two that made up the 40-ft. monument sign (approximately 1,800 lbs.) and four that comprised the faux-concrete-block base. The crew also performed some additional install processes not quite so typical. For example, the fence line around the monument sign location had already been installed, requiring the team to do multiple lifts over the 8-ft. fencing. Our crew members set up ladders to go back and forth over the fence. Fun stuff, right?

The 40-ft. Routine Field sign before it headed out for installation.
The 40-ft. Routine Field sign before it headed out for installation.

We used our lighter-duty trucks and trailers to transport the pieces to the installation site. Using our 17-ton mobile crane truck, we lifted the six pieces one at a time over the fence. The grade surrounding the installation site was uneven and soft – not the most desirable conditions. We had to crib up (stack wood) to the point where the crane was level and wouldn’t sink into the soft ground. Positioning the crane at its best lifting angle and lift capacity rating was critical (search YouTube for “crane fails” and you’ll see why). We used the 72-ft. reach capacity of the base crane and deployed the jib only when needed. 

The lower the angle and the farther the reach, the less weight the crane will be able to bear. We picked the sign up in the shop yard and weighed it to verify the planned weight calculations were correct. This is an important physical verification because sometimes things are changed in the fabrication process, possibly affecting the weight.

“We knew the total capacity of the pieces in the yard – the truck tells us how many pounds the sign weighs,” said John Dolan, Sign Effectz installer and crane operator. “Site management told us that we had to lift the sign pieces from the fire lane that goes around the field since it was concrete. Because we were in a fresh construction setting, some of the ground near the concrete was still settling.”

SETTING FOUR POLES

The two pieces of the monument sign were sleeved over four 6-in. Sch40 steel poles set in a straight line using less than a ½ in. tolerance for error. We began by augering a 30 in. x 7-ft. hole for each pole. Next, we put concrete rebar cage in the hole, along with the 6-in. pipe. Starting with the two center poles and working outward helped ensure the sign would be centered.

We hired a concrete subcontractor to set up the staging area and fill the holes with concrete. Using a concrete bucket to swing the concrete over the fence, it took 1.5 yards or five buckets of concrete per hole. With each hole being filled, we maintained leveling the poles throughout the process. 

Once the concrete was set, our crew prepped the four pole heights. They measured up from the concrete to the specified height and cut off excess pipe from the top. Now they were set to place the faux base over the poles.

The faux-concrete sign base was designed to look like concrete blocks, having used a multi-stage paint approach. The pressure was on our installers to perform their work delicately – aligning faux-mortar lines and not damaging any of the finished surfaces. The faux base incurred no damage and went together without a hitch. Because the poles and faux base were set correctly, it was easy to place the sign.

Sign Effectz's installers prepare to install the second half of the monument sign.
Sign Effectz's installers prepare to install the second half of the monument sign.

Interior welding was necessary for properly fitting the sign to its base. Inside the monument sign, our crew welded each pole to the frame to ensure the sign was structurally sound. They also connected the electrical jumps between modular sections. There were 10 LED power supplies for the overall sign, five in each section. 

Small adjustments can have a compound effect on the fit of finished parts. These were anticipated and planned for. For example, oversized seam parts were manufactured and adjusted in the field to complete the joints with a tight, craftsman-style fit. Minor paint touch-ups were done, electrical hooked up, and voilà! 

MOUNT ALTERNATIVE

The ticket office is a high-traffic area for the baseball stadium, so it presented a great opportunity for visibility of the Routine Field brand. We built a 12-ft. channel letter sign to be mounted on top of the ticket building just as construction of the structure was being completed. Due to uncontrollable circumstances, this was the day before the big home opener and stress levels can get a bit higher than normal. Can anyone relate?

The sign’s frame was to be built and installed by the steel contractor. Unfortunately, the sign frame was omitted from the overall project blueprints and was never constructed. Hence, there was no place to mount the sign. Working with the steel contractor, our installation crew developed and recommended an alternative approach to ROC Ventures for mounting the sign, and they approved it.

Because the ticket office was actually a repurposed intermodal cargo container with a corrugated roof, it was important to have a frame for the sign that would be compatible. “We confirmed the pitch of the roof and other measurements, then designed compression spacer standoffs to match,” Dolan said. “We also determined the correct location for the standoffs so they would be less likely to sheer off in strong winds. The sign weighed around 1,500 lbs., so our solution avoided a potential scenario where the corrugated material could get damaged or crushed during the installation process.”

WHAT IT TAKES

Although our installation process for electric signs is consistent from job to job (i.e., UL requirements and NEC codes) there are unique circumstances on every installation. 

For instance, this monument sign was pre-wired in the shop, a controlled environment, which makes for faster installation of components, better quality electrical connections and easier testing of the sign. One could imagine that making electrical connections in the field while it’s raining is not optimal, but it does happen on a regular basis. Anyone who has worked with electricity in the rain probably has a few stories of their own as to the outcome when it’s done incorrectly.

Each modular section had face-lit channel letters mounted to the surface. They included Principle Street Fighter LEDs, and universal 60W power supplies, all directed using 18/2 AWG jacketed low-voltage wiring. Whenever possible, we take advantage of a controlled environment for wiring electrical signs in the field, preferably somewhere onsite out of the elements. We’ve found that landlords will sometimes let us use vacant spaces to do this.

Because there was a lot of construction traffic at Ballpark Commons, it looked like controlled chaos to anyone new to the site. We estimate that there were roughly 15 different contractors and about 300 construction workers at the site on any given day. We coordinated with some of them, while most of them were doing work unrelated to the sign installation. 

“On some days, it felt like you were fighting for your piece of real estate,” Dolan said. “We trenched through mud one day, the next day there would be a concrete slab where the mud [had been]. One day there was no fence to deal with; the next day there was an 8-ft. fence between our truck and the designated mounting location for the monument sign. We busted our tails right up until opening day.”

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