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Five decades later, TSP continues to make its mark on Rochester

Five decades later, TSP continues to make its mark on Rochester

If you have attended a play, gone swimming, visited a school classroom, or had medical tests done here in the last 50 years, it likely was inside a building that has had design services provided by the architecture and engineering firm TSP, Inc.

“From this office, our body of work ranged far and wide, and still does,” says Steve Sorensen, AIA, who retired from the firm’s Rochester office in 2017.

This year, TSP will celebrate a half-century of finding creative solutions to complex problems in Rochester and surrounding communities. What started as a single engineer in an office on Second Street Southwest has expanded over 50 years with architectural and interior design services.

Architect Harold Spitznagel founded parent company TSP, Inc. — The Spitznagel Partners — in Sioux Falls, S.D., nearly 90 years ago. His client-centered philosophy continues to influence today’s employees in six offices across four states. Rather than pursue a purely aesthetic mission, TSP’s focus on the proper design solution for every owner has made it a favorite among education and community clients over the years.

Von Petersen

Von Petersen

“We’re making communities better by design,” says Von Petersen, AIA, senior project architect and TSP Rochester office leader. “As a community-focused firm, you can’t limit yourself to a specific project type. You’re concentrating on healthcare, education, and civic buildings.”

The firm’s first step: No matter how exciting the project might be, confer with the client before beginning a design. “We’re a process-based firm,” Petersen says. “The clients hold the keys to the project.”

That philosophy was inherited from former office leaders Roger Toulouse, PE, and Sorensen, who have kept client relationships healthy for decades. For example, the firm designed the original Rochester Recreation Center on North Broadway. When updates were needed years later, the city chose TSP again. It’s a familiar dynamic for the firm.

The early years

“It doesn’t seem possible that 50 years have passed that quickly,” Toulouse said. The retired engineer was the original leader of TSP in Rochester.

After almost 40 years in Sioux Falls, the firm chose Rochester for its first expansion.

“I was approached and asked if I would be interested in going to establish a Minnesota operation offering engineering design services,” says Toulouse.

He was, and in June 1969, Toulouse and his wife, Mary, made the move.

One of his first projects was the Hayfield, Minn., Elementary School, a 50,000-square-foot addition to an existing structure that would offer its pupils the then-rare benefit of air conditioning. According to Toulouse, the building cost the school district less than $15 per square foot to construct.

“Schools back then typically cost a lot more than that, but we designed and oversaw the construction of an elementary school that is still in use 50 years later,” he tells us.

Sorensen came to Rochester in 1970. One of the first projects he worked on was Minnesota Bible College, later known as Crossroads College. TSP went on to design projects for Rochester Public Schools, additions and remodels to the former Olmsted County Courthouse (now part of Mayo’s Ozmun Building), and a number of facilities for Samaritan Bethany Corp.

With each client came different budgets, goals, and considerations. TSP’s collaborative approach has enabled the firm to navigate successfully such a diverse slate of projects.

“I don’t know that we had an overall architectural or engineering theme, it was just providing good service and good value to your clients, to meet their needs,” Toulouse says. “You just have to listen.”

Where others might rely on big, flashy features, “we tend to find innovation in more modest elements in the design — some of which go unnoticed to most people — because they are small, simple gestures that make the design more functional or appropriate to the problem being solved,” Petersen says.

In 1974, the firm was hired to design the Rochester Rec Center. Its work earned the firm another invitation to remodel the building when it needed more hockey seating, then again for an expansion for additional seats for the Olympic pool, including the now-demolished concrete diving tower. TSP also came back to provide an expansion for 125 Live, completed in 2016.

A collaborative model

“One of our milestones was building our own office building. That was done in 1975,” Toulouse says. TSP still operates out of the building on Highway 52 North.

Through the 1970s and ‘80s, TSP continued to diversify. Hormel Foods used its engineering services throughout the 1980s: TSP assisted with a cannery, a hog-processing plant, and a gelatin plant, among other projects. It designed jails in Lincoln, Kandiyohi, and Cook counties in the 1990s. These were industrial, utilitarian buildings.

Steve Sorensen

Steve Sorensen

“Jail design is highly regulated and provides little room for aesthetic creativity,” says Sorensen. “Rather, it’s all about security, staffing efficiency, and durability.”

In 1999, the City of Rochester hired TSP for the Mayo Civic Center’s exhibition hall and north lobby additions. In 2006 the firm was retained to study MCC’s growing needs. That led to the major expansion completed in 2017, which resulted in a building that is a far cry from a county jail. Such diversity comes with the territory, but the firm’s approach to collaborate with each client works for all project types.

One of Sorensen’s favorite projects is the Marina Administration Building in Lake City. Having slipped a sailboat in the marina for 20 years, during the expansion he influenced the design team on function and nautical themes, including relocating the harbor beacon to a lighthouse.

Building a legacy

“What TSP does is something I’ve always viewed as a horizontal collaboration,” says Petersen. “It’s not vertical, where we come in and say, ‘Here’s what it’s going to look like, and here’s what we’re going to do.’ Instead, we’re going to sit here and just listen.”

“We have really good competition in Rochester. And with DMC, the competition has grown,” Sorensen says, referring to an influx of design firms interested in shaping the new Destination Medical Center.

It’s an environment Petersen is eager to be a part of for the next 50 years. He is ready thanks in part to the examples set by Toulouse and Sorensen.

“I like the idea and value of legacy,” says Petersen. “Any building that stands in service to the community and the people doesn’t really age and contributes to the legacy of both owner and city. That’s what Roger had, what Steve carried along, and what we’re continuing to try to build with connections and relationships in town here.”

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