As workers poured concrete into the elevator shaft walls and ironworkers fine-tuned the steel framework of the building’s west wing behind her, Chris Hart discussed the project she has overseen since late July.
“This is my home for the next year, year and a half,” she said.
Hart is project manager of the State Historical Society of Missouri’s newest building, the Center for Missouri Studies, which will replace the society’s space in the basement of MU’s Ellis Library. Hart works for the historical society’s general contractor, Peoria, Illinois-based River City Construction, which has a local office in Ashland.
During a recent tour of the construction site, which lies north of Elm Street between Sixth and Seventh streets and opposite Peace Park, Hart talked about the day-to-day construction challenges. The center, she said, is on time for its scheduled completion of March 2019.
Hart and her crew set up shop in late July after an April 19 groundbreaking. Now, as winter approaches, Hart said she and 20 to 25 construction workers are going to brace for the shift in weather and hope for the best as they continue to make headway on the building’s rise.
“You know, we’re just gonna keep building,” Hart said.
The goal, Hart said, is to finish pouring concrete for the 20-foot-deep basement before it gets too cold.
“So then once winter hits, we can work on steel erection, which is less temperature related,” Hart said.
In early November, people passing by the site would have seen little construction because it was all below grade, obscured by the chain link fence draped in green that surrounds the property. Now, the steel skeleton of the building’s west wing rises high above the fence, almost to the same height as its neighbor, the newest Brookside student apartment building.
“We had a big hole in the ground for a long time, and now we’re starting to see (the frame of the building),” Hart said.
The 75,000-square-foot headquarters for the historical society will look vastly different from the Brookside building and other student apartment additions downtown, including the 10-story Rise on 9th, the nearby District Flats, and the other Brookside buildings that dominate the eastern edge of downtown.
A complex, distinctive edifice is what the historical society wanted, project architect Sam Loring said. Loring works for Kansas City-based Gould Evans architecture firm and is a member of the American Institute of Architects.
“The client wanted an iconic building,” Loring said. “They were pretty insistent on that. (Gould Evans) wanted to create something that would speak to the (historical society’s) goals and their missions and reflected who they were.”
Part of that reflection will come in the form of a Missouri limestone facade. The building’s design is intended to replicate Missouri’s geological features, according to previous Missourian reporting.
In fact, many of the materials will originate from Missouri, Hart said. She pointed to the standards laid out in the U.S. Green Building Council’s Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design, more commonly referred to as LEED. Loring said Gould Evans and the historical society are aiming for LEED Gold status.
“With this project being LEED, recycled and regional materials are a big part,” Hart said. “The energy-efficiency of the building is also a big factor. You know, LED lights, very efficient HVAC system, the roofing, things like that.”
Mary Ellen Lohmann, spokeswoman for the historical society, said the environmental factor is key to the new building.
“We’re building not only for our generation but for future generations of Missourians,” she said. “We want them to be able to interact with their own history and explore what that means, but we also have a responsibility to do what we can for the environment.”
All the LEED prerequisites and credit requirements will push River City to assemble a sturdy complex that’s able to endure the wear and tear of future visitors, exhibits, a conservation lab and other uses for decades.
“This building is designed to be a 100-year building,” Loring said. “So all the structure, cladding, mechanical systems — everything is designed for long-term use.”
Throughout the design and construction, Loring said “thinking sustainable strategies” and “being sensitive to the environment” is important.
Neither Hart nor Loring have worked on the downtown apartment buildings that have more simplistic designs, but they said there are definitely challenges to finishing a structure that architecturally is far more complex.
“Everything is going to be more robust,” Loring said, emphasizing the real stone cladding the building’s exterior will feature and high-end interior materials such as epoxy terrazzo flooring.
The construction, Loring noted, is typically more difficult than “lightweight, wood-framed apartment complexes” because of the extensive coordination and time involved.
Gould Evans and River City consult each other frequently. At a minimum, Loring, Hart and the historical society have weekly conversations to discuss the project’s progress, scheduling questions, issues that arise during the week and any necessary changes.
In her 28-year construction career (a thought that made her chuckle), Hart has never worked on an apartment building like the ones downtown. She’s worked on various types of commercial construction, including the University of Missouri-St. Louis Rec and Wellness Center and the new Fulton State Hospital project with River City Construction.
While giving an overview of the construction site, where Hart helps the project supervisor oversee 15 River City carpenters and laborers and 10 to 15 subcontracted trade workers, she discussed some of the center’s construction challenges.
“It’s a very small site, so there’s not a lot of storage area, which creates some challenges...,” Hart said. “We can’t have all the steel delivered at one time, so we have to break up the construction into sequences.”
The center’s construction is broken into 10 phases. Workers now are focusing on the concrete foundation and shoring up the basement in Sequences 3 through 8 and the three-level steel framework of the west wing, which represents Sequences 1 and 2. Sequences 9 and 10, the center and east wings, will come last.
“Every project has, you know, its own set of challenges,” Hart said. “Building downtown, whether it’s apartments or a building like this, you have a very small area for storage, lay down area for equipment, materials (and) parking.”
Rebar, wooden pallets, stray steel beams, trucks and the River City’s trailer offices all compete for space on the site.
The deep basement of the center, which will house mechanical rooms and storage areas, was a unique challenge. Workers had to chip a lot of rock and pump a lot of water early on. Now, with the steel frames going up, the workers are dealing with the building’s proximity to the Elm Street sidewalk, a lack of repetition in the building’s design, and the architectural angles and curves.
“There is not one straight wall,” Hart said with a chuckle as she scanned the west wing’s steel framework.
“It’s fun doing hard projects. It’s challenging.” Hart said, “but at the end of the day you want to give the customer what they want and produce a product that is quality. It doesn’t matter if it’s a box or if it’s a building like the historical society. It’s kind of the same thing.”
Weather and other similar challenges aren’t unique to the Center for Missouri Studies.
Lohmann said the new building will be a big benefit to the society. Its gallery and storage space will increase by nearly 80 percent and 40 percent, respectively, and the preservation of manuscripts and other materials will be more environmentally friendly. Ellis is heated by steam, which is a difficult condition to work with.
The new building also will be more accessible.
“We’ve vastly outgrown this space, plus the environmental controls,” Lohmann said of the Ellis facility. “We’ve always been a part of Ellis and its history, so it will be a little interesting being apart from that, but we’ll still be able to be close and be an asset on campus.”
Lohmann said the Center for Missouri Studies will give the society a new face in the local community.
“We’re a place where you come once an instructor brings you in,” she said. “We have a lot of researchers that come in on their own, people that come in from all over the country who come for a week at a time to do research. But I think our own community is probably the least served because they don’t know as much about what we have.”
“And, I think, a lot of that is going to change by having better access.”