“It’s been super fun,” says Mrs. Minnesota America Jessica Koehler of the bowling alley she had built into her family’s home in Andover. Since we last reported on the project, Koehler has been packing lots of family games, along with donating the experience to charity silent auctions for St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital and Minnesota Adult & Teen Challenge, into her busy schedule.
“We’ve been packaging it as a 3-hour private bowling experience with Mrs. Minnesota America, complete with wood-fire pizza,” she says. “It’s been going gangbusters.” Koehler named the basement bowling alley Sparklepants Lanes for her husband, who is the real bowler in the family. “If you look at us, you’d think I’m the one with the sparkly hat,” she jokes, “but Eric’s the fancy one! Sparklepants is my nickname for my husband.”
Hanson Builders Inc. (which also built the Koehlers’ home) took on the project. “We’ve done a lot of unique things in the custom homes we’ve built for more than 40 years, but a bowling alley was a first for us,” says JD Hanson, vice president of operations. “Our biggest challenge was figuring out the structure of the recessed pit required for balls to return under the floor. The tolerances of this must be very precise and well thought out. A pit in the basement also causes concern for ground water to enter,” he continues. “We had a wall in the bowling alley that was shared with the back wall of the garage that was extremely tall and long, which raised the question: How can we support the wall and dig a pit right next to the garage wall?”
The team mitigated water in the pit by adding an additional drain tile system to the lower level of the house—solely dedicated to the pit area under the bowling alley. For the structural portion of the shared wall with the bowling alley and garage, the team engineered several structural elements that allowed shared spaces with the common wall. “We accomplished all of these with countless meetings and conversations with our trade partners to help put all the pieces together to make sure we could produce the desired end result,” Hanson says.
Fusion Bowling (in collaboration with Brunswick) installed the bowling alley. “The Koehlers wanted a vintage 1960s Brunswick Gold Crown masking unit (the panel right above the pins) to give a little bit of a retro element to their bowling alley,” explains co-founder Ryan Claxton. “We salvaged those 60-year-old pieces and completely restored them, then rewrapped them in new vinyl according to the Koehlers’ color specs, repainted them, replaced all the old bulbs with LEDs. We used a custom-built circuit board that could interface with the new pinsetter machines to show which pins have fallen via the ‘pindicator’ lights.”
Fusion also helped create the Sparklepants Lanes logo for the custom balls and pins. Koehler also credits Koschak Construction with the finishing work, Adam Britz Design & Build for the built-ins, GlowHub for the neon, and Morgan Molitor of construction2style for the styling.
Koehler, of course, oversaw the project in order to realize her concept and vision. “It’s so wonderful to watch people let their guard down and just have fun,” she says. “For older folks, it’s nostalgic. For the younger kids, bowling is fresh, new, and something they may not have experienced.”
She also says that while installing a bowling alley in your home “may look boisterous and like too much, the stories behind it tell of meaningful ways people come together for the greater good.” (As in the addiction stories of loved ones that are shared, as Koehler has her own story to tell and is a volunteer mentor with Minnesota Adult & Teen Challenge.) Not to mention the giving back the Koehler family enjoys as they share their home with other families who have a chance to roll the ball down Sparklepants Lanes.