Bringing Biblical History to Life
On July 7, a piece of biblical history that’s been seven years in the making came to life in Williamstown, Ky. It’s a full-size Noah’s Ark, built to biblical specifications (based on the Egyptian cubit). Spanning 510 feet long, 85 feet wide and 51 feet high, this $100 million marvel of engineering is the largest timber-frame structure in the world. It features three decks of world-class exhibits about the biblical account of Noah’s Ark.
LeRoy S. Troyer, FAIA, founder, chair and president of the Troyer Group in Mishawaka, Ind. – and a member of Bethel’s Board of Trustees since 1977 – served as the architect for the project. Alumnus Kyle Silveus ’09, a civil engineer at The Troyer Group, served on the civil team.
“[Answers in Genesis’ Ark Encounter] is the largest and boldest project we (the Troyer Group) have ever undertaken in the history of the firm,” says Troyer.
“It has been a dream of mine to build something of this size out of wood that honors and glorifies our Lord. As I look back, it seems my whole life has been preparing me for this adventure,” he adds.
A Mennonite who grew up Amish, Troyer learned drafting while working for a construction company and was eventually accepted to the architecture program at the University of Notre Dame, despite not having a high school degree. Following his graduation in 1971, he passed the national boards and started the Troyer Group, now a third-generation family business, and has gone on to plan, design and build everything from college campuses (including Bethel), churches and senior living communities, to Nazareth Village in Israel, the American Countryside Farmers Market and now, a life-size replica of Noah’s Ark.
“My role as president of the Troyer Group and architect is overseeing every stage of the project. My life has been spent organizing and engaging other people … the key to me was to get the best people we could find, either in-house or outside of the office,” says Troyer of putting a team together for the Ark Encounter.
He hired the same Amish builders who worked on the farmers market to construct the ark – men he had grown up with. Troyer asked these builders to lead the heavy timber framing and carpentry work. The structure itself was built in just one year.
He estimates that his firm put in close to 70,000 hours designing and drawing up plans for the 800-acre site, which includes the massive ark, a 1,500-seat restaurant, a zoo and 4,000-space parking lot, with future plans for a pre-flood walled city and Tower of Babel, as well as a 600-seat restaurant on top of the roof deck.
Designing a flat parking lot among the hills of Kentucky was one of the challenges that Kyle Silveus encountered as part of the civil team. In all, 1.5 million cubic yards of rock and dirt were moved by equipment and explosives to make the parking lot and ark site buildable. “My role included work on the overall site grading and layout for the park, drainage design, utilities and road improvements to the state road to improve public access to the park,” he says.
Silveus was also involved in designing the road leading from the parking lot to the ark site.
“We tried to design it so that guests would be transported from modern time to Noah’s time as they went up the hill,” he says. “It was rewarding to see the reactions of the guests when they went up that hill and saw the ark for the first time.”
Silveus, too, saw the ark for the first time, along with his wife Mindy (Kuiper) ’08 on the day of the ribbon cutting, as all of his engineering work had been done from computer in the Troyer Group’s Mishawaka office.
“It was really, really exciting to see a project you put so many hours into become a reality and be enjoyed by so many people,” he says.
For Silveus, his solid preparation at Bethel (as part of the 3-2 engineering program where students spend three years studying math/physics at Bethel and then transfer to a partner university – Trine or the University of Notre Dame – to finish their degree), coupled with biblical studies courses, set him up for success on this project.
“The engineering program [at Bethel] gave me an excellent foundation. The liberal arts classes provided me with a well-rounded education, and it allowed me to study the Bible, which I wouldn’t have gotten with a straight engineering degree at Trine.”
Both Silveus and Troyer agree that the Ark Encounter is designed to point to biblical truths, and ultimately, to the person of Jesus.
“The key is to draw people to Christ,” says Troyer.
It is this same mission that drew Troyer to Bethel College in 1977, when then-president Norman Bridges, Ph.D., was looking to involve more community members in the Board of Trustees. Since then, Troyer has served three terms on the board and is currently on his fourth – and he doesn’t plan to stop any time soon.
“As long as I feel the call, I will stay on the board,” he says.
The Troyer Group designed the master plan and land use plan for Bethel College, as well as many buildings on campus, including the Sufficient Grounds Café and Campus Store expansion, 1001 Bethel Circle entrance, Miller-Moore Academic Center, Middleton Hall of Science addition, Sailor Hall, Wiekamp Athletic Center, Everest-Rohrer Chapel/Fine Arts Center, Dining Commons renovation, Founders Village apartments and Bowen Library.
So, you don’t have to travel to Kentucky to see their handiwork. But in case you’d like to, you can learn more and purchase tickets at ArkEncounter.com.