Building More than an Aquatic Facility

ramaker insights

Building More than an Aquatic Facility

architecture, aquatics

How strong partnerships and value engineering helped Ramaker and Dolphin Swim Academy navigate major setbacks and bring the aquatic facility to life

In 2019, Brittany Ballweg was ready to build a home for Dolphin Swim Academy. Having outgrown the school and senior center pools where she taught essential water safety skills, Ballweg set her sights on DeForest, Wisconsin, and partnered with Ramaker to provide comprehensive architectural design, aquatic design, and civil and structural engineering services for a new facility.

But to paraphrase the Scottish poet Robert Burns, even the best laid plans can go awry—especially when a global pandemic brings the world to a halt.

Navigating the challenges created by the COVID-19 pandemic and completing Dolphin Swim Academy’s new facility would require resilience and several creative solutions from Ramaker’s architectural and engineering teams.

Changing plans to stay on track


As the pandemic spread across the globe, it became clear that construction for Dolphin Swim Academy could not proceed as planned. Switching locations from DeForest to Cottage Grove, Wisconsin, was the first in a series of changes for Ballweg.

“I did a 180 on almost 90% of my project,” said Ballweg. “Location changed, layout changed, design changed, relationships grew stronger, and everyone was incredibly helpful and supportive.”

In early 2020, Ballweg and Ramaker conceptualized a 7,500 square foot swimming facility in the Village of Cottage Grove’s Commerce Park. After gaining community approval, Ramaker worked closely with Ballweg on preliminary programming and space planning efforts.

Building More than an Aquatic Facility
A rendering of Dolphin Swim Academy's new aquatic facility.

Ultimately, Ballweg decided to move Dolphin Swim Academy to Cottage Grove to better serve her swimmers, but economic factors also influenced her decision. At the onset of the pandemic, many banks were reluctant to finance new developments. However, Ramaker was committed to Ballweg’s vision and leveraged the firm’s long-standing relationships with local financial institutions to keep the project moving forward.

“When we take on a project, we’re never just designing a building,” said Ramaker’s Lead Architect, Joe Gallagher, AIA. “We can bring other partners to the table to get projects done.”

This partnership-oriented approach allowed Ramaker to put the firm’s years of relationship-building to work, helping Ballweg navigate a difficult and unexpected situation.

Finding creative solutions to overcome setbacks


Shortly after Dolphin Swim Academy hosted a groundbreaking ceremony in Cottage Grove, steel and wood prices rose dramatically. As shutdowns loomed and supply chains were disrupted, lead times became unpredictable. More changes were in store to keep the project within budget.

Ramaker redesigned project components on the fly, providing value engineering suggestions and revising construction plans. With Ballweg’s input, Ramaker differentiated essential elements for opening day from the facility’s long-term needs. The firm’s architectural team designed the building to serve young swimmers immediately while also setting up the facility for future expansion. These adjustments cut costs without sacrificing major amenities.

Although Dolphin Swim Academy will open later than originally planned, Ramaker’s ability to find creative solutions and reduce costs helped the project weather major setbacks.

“We did everything we could to guarantee the project would manifest,” said Gallagher. “We want Dolphin Swim Academy to be successful as much as Brittany does.”

Located at the intersection of Landmark Drive and Limestone Pass in the Village of Cottage Grove, Dolphin Swim Academy will expand access to swimming instruction for local youth and include two 25-meter swim lanes for competitive swimmers and amateurs alike.

“When we take on a project, we’re never just designing a building.”


—Joe Gallagher, AIA, Ramaker’s Lead Architect

“Dolphin Swim Academy is excited to start making waves in the community through quality swim lessons and water safety education,” said Ballweg.

Families can register now for founding membership packages to be a part of Dolphin Swim Academy’s inaugural year in their new facility.

key contact

Joe Gallaghe


Joe Gallagher, AIA, leads architectural business development at Ramaker. With over 10 years of design experience, ranging from multifamily housing, senior living, and community-based projects to entertainment, hospitality, municipal, and government work, Joe delivers creative solutions for projects of all types and sizes.

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