Weddings are the culmination for months of behind-the-scenes planning. Before Stephanie Gorman said her “I do’s” on September 29, her family’s preparation was just as intense — but with a twist. A big part of her wedding day was the construction of new riding arena and stable barn in which to host the ceremony and reception.
“Where do you park the cars for 350 invitees?” asks stepmother Mallory Gorman. She and her husband Gary are owners of the new Fitchfork Stables in Fitchburg, Wis. “Where do the horses go during the wedding? And what about having the reception in a riding arena, when nighttime lighting is designed for riding rather than the ambience of a wedding?”
Yet, as this story goes to press, the happy couple plans (pardon the pun) to get hitched in high style. And long after the wedding decorations come down, the Gormans look forward to years of enjoyment from their new equine facility. Not only do the Gormans have five horses and a small breeding operation, but Mallory is active in carriage sports and travels to American Driving Society sanctioned competitions nationwide.
“I’d been needling Gary for years about building a barn and arena of our own,” Mallory smiles, “and last year, in spring 2006, he finally gave in!” From there, the project quickly picked up steam as the Gormans engaged an architect and solicited bids from builders.
Even a name for the new facility, Fitchfork Stables, was ready-made. “The Gorman family homesteaded in Fitchburg 120 years ago,” explains Mallory, “and so Gary’s parents and brother also have homes nearby.” As fans of ‘Dallas,’ Mallory and Gary remembered how the hit 1980s TV show was set in Texas on the fictional Southfork Ranch. “Family dramas played out every week,” laughs Mallory, “and so we thought Fitchfork Farm was a nice play on words as a name for our property.”
Last year when the Gormans decided to add Fitchfork Stables to their estate, Mallory was excited when her neighbor and riding partner, Courtney Odorico, offered to draw up the plans. “Courtney is a residential architect and designs homes,” Gorman recalls, “and she understood my passion for riding.” Sketches were soon produced for a seven-stall stable, tack room, wash stall, feed room, hay storage, office, entertainment area, bathroom, laundry room and storage for Mallory’s five carriages.
For equine, post-frame rules
Gary Gorman is a commercial builder whose Gorman & Company specializes in construction of multi-family apartment and condominium projects. But the firm’s general field superintendent, Bruce Ramos, knew that a post-frame builder experienced in horse barns was the best option for putting up an equine facility. Ramos was acquainted with Wisconsin horse barn builder Ken Meigs and, in late 2005, invited him to submit a bid on Fitchfork Stables.
When Meigs Inc. was selected to build the project, Ken Meigs scheduled his first meeting with Mallory Gorman and Courtney Odorico in April 2006. From the start, all parties enjoyed good rapport — which was vital in working out a division of responsibilities. “The architect knew her craft,” Meigs relates, “but her specialty was home design and not equine facilities. We were able to make the design more horse-friendly. And by being involved early in the project, we used our construction knowledge to save the owners about $100,000.”
Based in Black Earth, Wis., Meigs earns his spurs by performing some 100 residential and commercial jobs each year, with a specialty in horse barns. Post-frame projects built by his two crews range in value from $2,000 to $2 million, with an average value of about $500,000 for its equine projects. Meigs’s portfolio includes equine facilities with as many as 30 stalls and arenas up to 100×225 in size.
Meigs was gratified when the architect was receptive to his input and readily relied on his company’s expert knowledge of horse barns and post-frame construction. Ground was broken in November 2006 — and then a month into construction, Gary Gorman authorized the addition of a riding arena as a surprise Christmas gift to his wife.
In addition to coordinating his efforts with the Gormans’ architect, Meigs likewise worked out an accommodation with Ramos on the interior finishing. “It’s fairly unique to construct a horse barn for an owner who is himself a builder, though not a post-frame builder,” says Meigs. “They decided to have us do the shell, while they arranged for the interiors.” Since post-frame and stick-built are different construction methods, he adds, “Scheduling is different, which created some situations we had to work through.”
Moreover, while Meigs usually schedules trade contractors on his jobs, Ramos filled that role for Fitchfork Stables. “On occasion, because both of us were used to different construction methods,” he notes, “Bruce would send trade contractors before we were ready and we’d have to send them away. But we worked it out and got through the project just fine.”
Communication is key
One reason the job stayed on track, Meigs states, was the owner’s vision. “Mallory knew what she wanted,” he says, “and was good at communicating that to everyone.” Yet she was also a good listener. “Originally she wanted the hay storage above the stalls,” Meigs recounts, “but she was willing to change her plans when we explained how that would restrict airflow and make the horses feel too confined.”
The result, completed in March 2007, was a 48×100 barn, 80×120 arena, and 24×28 paddock area. From Meigs’s standpoint, some unique features at Fitchfork Stables include an 8:12 roof pitch, two-story office and lounge with a deck for entertaining, and an insulated roof system.
For Mallory Gorman, the finished product represents a happy compromise between dreams and reality. “The original estimate was almost $1 million,” she relates, “and so we started narrowing down our plans—no separate carriage house, no fieldstone exterior, no living quarters, no kitchen. In fact, we discovered that with living quarters and a kitchen, our stables would no longer be classified as an agricultural building. That would have complicated things.”
What the Gormans got in the end was an appealing combination, says Mallory, “of aesthetics and functionality, which is also low-maintenance and easy to use.” Yet soon after construction was completed, the Gormans learned they had to put off relaxation until later. When Stephanie decided to have her September wedding at Fitchfork Stables, Mallory again went into high-gear planning mode.
“We had to put down a blacktop for all the cars,” she exclaims, “and get a wood floor on the riding arena to have the reception. And we were having landscape work done almost until the wedding day!”
Looking back on the trail that led to the Fitchfork Stables project, Gorman says, “It really helped that we used a builder with lots of horse barn knowledge — because I had lots of questions!”
In the end, however, the facility turned out to be all she wished.
And Gorman now is finally settling down to enjoy the realization of her own dreams.