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Minnesota State University, Mankato
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Engineering Students Dream, Design Big

Minnesota State Mankato students planned projects for passenger rail, Mount Kato renovation.

Amanda Dyslin, Mankato Free Press, 4-28-2014

Imagine a passenger rail that connected the Twin Cities to Mankato, making those late-night concerts in the Metro seem a little easier to get to.

Imagine if Mount Kato was a year-round resort with a nice hotel and restaurant, among other things.

Two teams of about a dozen civil engineering students spent an entire academic year at Minnesota State University, Mankato doing a lot more than imagining those two projects. They conceptualized, studied and planned them, including transportation patterns, structures, geotechnical (soil and foundation), hydrological, environmental implications, and total overall costs.

It’s important to point out that the undergraduate students’ work was not contracted. As of yet, their reports and findings will not be taken up and implemented by the city of Mankato or the owners of Mount Kato, said one of the students’ professors, Stephen Druschel.

“We don’t want to compete with the engineering community,” Druschel said. “The last thing we want to do is take work from them.”

Instead, as with every other capstone project, the students aim to inspire Greater Mankato organizations and businesses to consider the possibilities that their projects present. And many times, Druschel said, they do just that.

On the first day of fall semester, Druschel presented the two projects to students, and they split into their teams. Tyler Conley and Riley Dvorak were assigned as project managers for the rail project and Mount Kato project, respectively.

Conley’s team’s project was based on a state and city plan already hatched for using the Union Pacific corridor between Mankato and the Twin Cities for a passenger rail.

“Our project centered around, ‘Where do you put the depot for passengers to get on and off, as well as how do you find space to accommodate that many vehicles or that much traffic into and out of Mankato?” Conley said.

The team’s plan involved renovating the existing depot building on Riverfront Drive and planning parking, among other things. The team came up with a plan that would cost $14 million.

The private-development plan for Mount Kato was much more elaborate and costly. The team planned building a hotel with an attached conference center, ballroom and restaurant. There would also be a water park, a big parking lot addition, and the existing chalet would be renovated.

The total project cost would be $53 million, Dvorak said.

The teams met with transportation officials for the rail project and with the Mount Kato manager for the other. Conley and Dvorak said both provided good feedback on their work.

Alumni who attended the public hearing last week weren’t as kind — acting out a kind of rite of passage for having gone through the capstone project process themselves and making the seniors work hard to defend theirs.

“A big issues of ours was drainage,” Dvorak said.

“The big thing about ours, that I’m glad we answered, is Mankato is notorious for train noise,” Conley said. “And a large portion of our design went into implementing a quiet zone — a whistle-free corridor.”

But with that idea came the concern of safety: how to alert people who might be on the tracks that a “very big, very fast, very quiet” train is coming through. Conley and Dvorak said they learned a great deal, and they said all the students hope that some aspect of the projects might actually get built one day. That’s actually happened with Druschels’ seniors’ capstone projects in the past.

Previous capstone projects that are being used include: a new 330-bed dorm building at Minnesota State Mankato (being used by Minnesota State Mankato); a reworked Veterans Bridge/ new pedestrian bridge (being used by the Minnesota Department of Transportation); Pine Island/Zumbro River flood mitigation (being used by the city of Pine Island); and a Le Sueur-Henderson bike trail and Le Sueur city park renovation (being used by Le Sueur and the DNR).

“I’ve already given up that a big hotel is going to go there (at Mount Kato),” Dvorak said. “But I just want to provide a vision.”

Druschel said the students put a “stunning amount of work” into the projects with an estimated street value of $80,000 in work by each team.

The entire version of this story can be read in a print copy of the Mankato Free Press. Call the Mankato Free Press at 625-4451 or (800) 657-4662 to find out how to purchase a print copy. The Free Press also prints select stories online at

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