He had a dream to build a Milwaukee area sports complex. One night, it came crashing down.

He had a dream to build a Milwaukee area sports complex. One night, it came crashing down.

NEW BERLIN - In July 2020, Aaron Kahle excitedly stood before the city's planning panel to unfold a vision he had in mind for a deluxe 153,000-square-foot indoor sports complex, a field-filled training center unlike any other in the Milwaukee metro area.

That vision foresaw a facility transforming an old elementary school property into a standout structure where student athletes, as well as families, could focus their energies on either serious competition or general fitness. There would also be educational components, including music and dance.

Two years later, in July 2022, Kahle stood outside the then-nine-month-old facility at 5330 S. Racine Ave. enduring the opposite end of the emotional spectrum, devastated that his dream project had shockingly been felled by a rush of rainwater from a once in a century storm capable of collapsing part of the center's roof and building.

"Rough. The roughest point in my life," he said, thinking back to that night on July 5. "It took a few weeks to gather (information) and understand what needed to happen next."

The 16-month-old OAW Indoor Sports Complex fully reopened in late December, just shy of six months following the weather-related damage.

As he sifts through the details of what happened and why, he has at least found his emotions moving back toward center ground, elated that the OAW Indoor Sports Complex has reopened to a strong response, while at the same time acknowledging the possible legal actions the owners might have to take.

"Praise God that nobody was hurt when this happened, and praise God that we're open now in a time frame that no one thought we would be open, and 100% complete," Kahle said.

The roof collapse on the southwest corner of the building, visible from both Racine and National avenues, forced the evacuation of the center. Kahle was there, helping move people who were inside the facility to protected areas internally as officials surveyed whether it was safe to move outside.

"The noise was incredible, and I still hear it until this day," he said, recalling the sound of the roof and southwest wall straining under the surge of water.

The suddenness of the near-disaster gave way to months of investigation coupled with the need to redesign the roof drainage system, as well as the actual construction at a time when the supply chain in the industry made completing the project that much harder.

"I've worked on this facility since July 5th for 14 to 16 hours a day to get it back in the time frame we intended," Kahle said, noting that he even took the time to squeegee the floors after subsequent rainfalls to avoid further damage until the roof again fully enclosed the complex.

Still speaking about his "passion" for the facility, he also said he felt hurt by the inclusion of a partial quote, in a recent Milwaukee Journal Sentinel article, from the facility's grand opening in October 2021 about design changes he had made to the facility before its 2021 opening. In that quote, drawn from a more complete statement that put it into better context, Kahle had offhandedly remarked how his numerous changes might have annoyed his architects.

Specifically, he was concerned that some people might misinterpret that quote. None of those changes — which involved the floor plan, particularly on the main floor — were in any way connected with the roof collapse, which reports later attributed to a design that inadequately channeled heavy rain and allowed water to build up.

"As a visionary and a designer, you change all these little things on the floors to make everything flow (internally) and feel right," Kahle said. "As I said at the time, I wouldn't change any of it."

He also declined to discuss other specifics of the roof failure. Ethic Indoor LLC, the official name of the ownership group of the facility, only alluded to the issues in the company's reopening announcement on Dec. 29.

"We want to reassure the public that there has been a complete, thorough, and independent, professional investigation regarding the cause of the roof collapse," Ethic said via the complex's Facebook page. "During the investigation it was revealed that there was an inadequate roof drainage system, and the weight of additional rainwater resulted in the partial roof collapse. The issues that caused the rainwater to pool have been identified and resolved with the installation of an entirely new, robust roof drainage system that includes a secondary drainage system (overflow)."

Kahle, a builder by trade who partnered with Joe Mallinger in erecting the sports complex, said he doesn't want to "throw those contractors under the bus" by discussing those design issues. Ultimately, insurance and legal discovery disclosures will determine what happens next in terms of financial relief. But, he added, he appreciated the contractors' contributions regardless.

If the crisis had any bright sides, it's that the revamped building and roof system is, if anything, "over-engineered" now, he said, adding: "No one ever wants to go through this again and for it to happen. Most people get that, that this thing is probably bulletproof now."

Youth sports camps, fitness classes and sports leagues are available at the New Berlin facility

Two months ahead of the year-end reopening, the sports complex began the process of welcoming the various programs and people who had filled the building prior to the roof collapse. The invitations included youth sports camps, adult group fitness classes and sports leagues, especially those using the spacious Field Turf surfaces on the main floor.

"We're busier than we were last year at this time," he said at the height of the winter season in late January, when indoor fields are a premium attraction."

On Jan. 21, for instance, roughly 4,000 people moved through the facility as participants in varying activities. A list of those activities, and others now set for February and March, are listed on the complex's website and Facebook page.

"I feel like this roof collapsed 10 years ago," Kahle said. "Now that we're back, it doesn't even feel real that this happened."

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