Pergola Project Completed

December 22, 2017 

Residents and patients of PioneerCare Center received an early Christmas present and it’s now been constructed in the building’s front garden. While the gift will be more enjoyable in warmer months, the new pergola already adds architectural interest. 

The project was originally the brainchild of Jody Sanborn, a former maintenance worker at Pioneer with a talent for timber frame construction. When the care center was built in 2011 it included a circular patio space, 30 feet in diameter, with a fountain serving as a focal point. The entire patio is surrounded by perennial flowers, bushes, and ornamental trees. While it serves as a retreat to enjoy the outdoors, Sanborn noted the patio’s lack of shade. His proposal for a pergola offered a mix of shade and sunny options for people to maximize use of the space.

“It’s important for a person’s well-being to connect with the outdoor environment,” said Nathan Johnson, PioneerCare’s CEO. “The care center offers numerous choices for individuals to do that with generous use of windows, multiple patios, our glass-walled Garden Court with its indoor waterfall, and now the pergola in the front garden.”

Based on a small model Sanborn built several years ago, the PioneerCare Auxiliary and PioneerCare Foundation launched a joint fundraising appeal last spring. According to Steve Guttormson, the foundation’s executive director, donors contributed $22,000 toward the project.

“People were intrigued by the model,” Guttormson said. “They could see it would be a worthwhile addition to the care center grounds and they were eager to contribute.”

Once fundraising was complete and it was time to build, Sanborn had moved on to working full time for a firm erecting wind generators. He was no longer available to steer the project to completion, so he turned the project over to Spidahl Woodworks.

Ben Spidahl, a timber framer in his own right and collaborator with Sanborn on other projects, finalized the design based on the model Sanborn had created. “I was really excited to build a circular timber frame structure like this,” said Spidahl. “I knew the layout and joinery would be challenging but that’s what makes this kind of work fun!”

Large timbers were needed to make the semi-circular plates of the pergola’s inner ring and perimeter, so Spidahl ordered western red cedar timbers from a specialty mill in Spokane, Washington. Red cedar is known for strength, beauty, and weather-resistant qualities.

He began fabricating the different components of the pergola in late October at a shop in Pelican Rapids. With most of the work done there in a controlled environment, on-site installation was completed in just two days.

Spidahl described the assembly as “putting together a big three-dimensional puzzle.” He notes that a smooth assembly is a testament to meticulous planning and expertly executed layout and joinery.

The design uses traditional timber frame construction. The centuries-old technique requires specialized skill and precision to complete, including mortise and tenon joinery with hardwood dowels pinning the joints. Such construction is extremely sturdy and emphasizes the beauty of wood. “Timber framing is like furniture building on a grand scale,” says Spidahl. “It’s hard work and nerve-wracking at times because every cut counts. When you have no extra material and all your joinery is exposed you have to get it right the first time.  But the end result is very gratifying! I’m happy that my work will provide a space of peace and beauty for many people to enjoy.”

The pergola makes the most of the circular patio’s footprint. Three wedge shapes, equally spaced around the circle, meet with a middle ring over the fountain. All the wood surfaces were treated with a weather-resistant penetrating oil prior to assembly. Threaded rods anchor the structure to the concrete patio.

“It’s outstanding,” Johnson said. “Seeing the structure in place makes us look forward to spring.”

Those interested in supporting projects through Pioneer Foundation can contribute online at or contact the Foundation directly.

Log in