Trails Edge is a brand-new apartment community in Maplewood, Minnesota, and their owners wanted a monument sign at the entrance of their property. So they turned to North Star Signs & Engraving to provide this scenery-complementing faux-wood and faux-stone sign.
North Star Signs & Engraving, Inc., is a full-service, “one-stop” shop based in St. Augusta, Minnesota. The family-owned company, which has now been in business for sixteen years, works on dimensional lettering, vehicle wraps, banners, and more for the commercial sign market (and general contractors). They also manufacture ADA-compliant signage in-house.
Their shop floor features two new Hermes Gravograph IS8000 computerized engravers, as well as an IS400 and a 30-by-50-inch 80-watt laser cutter. There’s also Roland DGA’s new TrueVIS VG2 fifty-four-inch printer and cold laminator along with a twenty-four-inch Gerber plotter.
The ownership group of Trails Edge had worked with the sign company on many other projects over the years, and being satisfied with those results, they sought them out immediately to bring their monumental vision to life. “They came to us wanting help designing something that would fit within their budget,” says North Stars Signs & Engraving Co-Owner Josh Laudenbach.
Laudenbach and his sign company had never worked with this developer before. “He showed us a drawing of two sign ideas that [the Trails Edge owners] wanted,” he says, “so we priced them out as a lit aluminum sign with push-thru letters and real wood accents.”
This initial pricing out went through a wholesaler yet ended up being over the developer’s budget. This required going back to the drawing board.
Since North Star Signs & Engraving had worked with expanded polystyrene (EPS) foam provider Signs By Benchmark of Watertown, South Dakota, on other projects, Laudenbach decided to show the contractor one of Benchmark’s sample “Welcome” signs that they had on-hand. “We went out to the site with this sample and met with the owners. They seemed impressed that [the sample] matched the capabilities of the surrounding construction, as well as its overall appearance,” says Laudenbach.
So Laudenbach and his team redesigned the sign using EPS foam instead with normal finishes. “This ended up being within their budget and was approved right away,” he says.
The originally approved redesign featured just the complex’s name on one panel, the Trails Edge scenic logo on a panel above it, and a panel at the bottom with the property’s phone number.
However Laudenbach put his design instincts back in action and contacted Signs By Benchmark again. He asked about having the area around the logo all done in a “faux” wood finish using EPS foam. “I went back to the owners with this option, which increased the price a bit,” he says, “but they ended up all onboard with this option as well.”
North Star Signs & Engraving took the initial drawings supplied by the developer and imported them into Flexi™ sign software where they then made the necessary aesthetic changes. They saved this file as a vector format and emailed it over to Signs By Benchmark for fabrication.
As mentioned earlier, the entire sign is made out of EPS foam, and it is encapsulated with Signs By Benchmark’s polyurea protective coating. “We used one-pound-density EPS to create this monument sign,” says Jamie Kakacek, senior designer at Signs By Benchmark. “Because this is more of a standard-type sign, we didn’t feel it was necessary to go with a higher density material.”
The monument sign was constructed as two sections—both faux-wood panels with a section of a faux-stone column to divide them. Signs By Benchmark was able to build a majority of the sign with a mixture of their CNC hot wire cutting equipment and CNC router. “We ended up hand-sculpting the faux-stone so as to match the customer’s specifications,” says Kakacek.
When it came time to paint the sign pieces, Signs By Benchmark fortunately had physical samples of what the client liked. “This method is always nice to work with because we have a concrete color palette that we’re trying to achieve,” says Kakacek. “The colors on the sign were done with a combination of acrylic stucco and an architectural line of paints that we mix in house.”
Signs By Benchmark ended up having to alter some of the dimensions on the face so that there would be a visible gap between the two faces. “This became pretty apparent when we made the models and noticed that there was going to be an issue,” says Kakacek.
The sign was shipped out in two sections. “One face has the column attached to it and the other solely the second face,” explains Kakacek. “We created a ship-lap joint in the column so that the male end of the second faces would slide into the column to hide any seams.”
And while Signs By Benchmark was busy fabricating the main monument pieces, North Star Signs & Engraving was working on welding up a frame for the finished sign to sit on out at the Trails Edge site. The frame was constructed using three ten-foot-long, four-inch-diameter posts.
“The sign was to sit on 3-inch-by-4-inch-by-1/4-inch angle at grade,” says Laudenbach, “so we brought our sign frame to the site and installed it using three sanu tubes measuring five feet deep and at a fourteen-inch diameter.”
According to Laudenbach, bringing a third-party provider such as Signs By Benchmark onboard this project really helped them, as it allowed them to focus on fulfilling the other signage needs at Trails Edge (such as fabricating and installing the ADA and parking lot signage on the property).
The team of installers at North Star Signs & Engraving brought the finished sign pieces on-site and attached them to the frame. The monument sign rests over three poles, two in each of the faces and one that is shared in the center column.
They lowered the sign into place using the Lull that the contractors had on site. “The Lull is usually on the property anyways, but it did take a bit of scheduling to [secure its services],” says Laudenbach.
According to Kakacek, the shared pole design was probably the biggest “challenge” for Signs By Benchmark when it came to fabricating this monument sign. “It was a little out of the norm but really nothing that we hadn’t done before,” he says. “We always take a little extra care when dealing with multiple sections to make sure that all reveals meet our expectations.”
The Trails Edge monument sign has proven to be a great accent to this new apartment complex, as it’s quite noticeable installed near a busy intersection. It measures 70 inches wide and 72 inches tall and features 24.25-inch-wide panels. “The overall height of the sign is not over six feet tall,” says Laudenbach. “Anything over that height would have required us to provide engineered drawings to the city.”
Everyone ended up thrilled with how the finished sign turned out, especially since it was a durably constructed sign finished on time and within budget. “After the sign was installed, I sent pictures to the developer and one of the owner’s reps, and they where both very happy with the finished product,” says Laudenbach.