If walls could talk, the West Pine Gym at Saint Louis University (SLU) would have a long and interesting story to tell. Since it opened in 1928, the gym has served as the backdrop of a Martin Luther King speech, a Byrds concert, and countless sporting events.

Thanks to an extensive design-build renovation project by Kaiser Electric (electrical contractor), Fox and Associates (architect), and McCarthy Building Companies, Inc. (general contractor), the West Pine Gym will soon be reborn as the university’s new Center for Global Citizenship.

The facility, which was known more recently as the Bauman-Eberhardt Center, last hosted a women’s basketball game in 2008. Over the years, different faculty and staff members have used the offices within the building. Moving forward, the building will include two main areas: a Global Student Commons and a high-tech, 1,000-seat auditorium. A new wall will divide these areas, and an interior bridge will connect the east and west sides of the building.

Coordinating crews

When Kaiser Electric first arrived at the site, the electricians discovered a hardwood floor, basketball nets, trophies, batting cages, and exercise equipment. After removing this equipment and gutting the office space surrounding the auditorium, the contractor then began installing wiring to support new technology and systems within the building.

Because this was a renovation rather than a new construction project, the electricians did not have to work on the project in phases. Instead, Kaiser Electric Foreman Josh Buchmeier appointed six, two-person teams of electricians to work on different projects simultaneously. For example, one team focused on the electrical panels and new service while another was responsible for mechanical power wiring. The electricians also installed the voice/data system and wired the new fire pump as well as the fire alarm and sprinkler systems.

Installing new technology

A key element of the project involved upgrading the lighting in the front lobby, concourse, office areas, and auditorium with new energy-efficient luminaires. Before the renovation, the facility relied on HID metal-halide-type luminaires. The electricians were able to reuse the existing circuitry and connect new LED luminaires, which can be dimmed for theatrical performances on the movable stage.

In addition to being dimmable, these LED luminaires also offer a substantial amount of energy savings to the university, says Roger Messmer, a project manager with Kaiser Electric, which is based in Fenton, Mo. and employs 150 electricians. He estimates that SLU will cut its energy consumption in half by moving to the LED lighting technology. Over time, the LED luminaires will also be easier to maintain long-term due to their 50,000-hr lamp life, says Michael Compton, Kaiser Electric executive vice president.

“It became apparent that the traditional method of lighting a gym with the round high-bay lights would not be a good option for the facility in the long run,” Compton says. “The fixtures are more than 30 ft up in the air, and it would be hard for the university to go up and maintain them. With the LED technology, however, SLU can reduce operating and maintenance costs and change the lighting levels, depending on how they use the facility.”

The electricians also worked alongside TSI Global, a St. Charles, Mo.-based video technology firm, to wire a large video screen for the auditorium.

“A series of small screens are being installed together to create a large screen effect,” Messmer says. “It is a fairly elaborate setup for an auditorium.”

On the Global Student Commons side, the electricians installed charging stations with USB ports throughout the cafe so the students can easily charge their phones or laptop computers. They also reworked the wiring and upgraded the voice data system for the office space, which will now serve as a support area for the faculty and staff. 

Overcoming obstacles

Throughout the project, Kaiser Electric faced two main challenges, including working at extreme heights and wiring a historic building. For the newly renovated auditorium, which included a concourse and lower level, the electricians had to work off of a scaffold or a lift to install wiring and luminaires at the ceiling. All of the materials had to be hoisted up to the electricians, who were working 38 ft off the floor. To ensure worker safety, Kaiser Electric mandated that they wear safety harnesses any time they were on a scaffold or a lift.

“When working at that height, safety is first and foremost,” Messmer says. “There’s no fall from that height without a major disaster.”

Another challenge the electricians faced was wiring a historic structure. As such, they had to preserve the integrity of the building by finding routes through the facility that were inconspicuous. The team also had to protect the wood floor, which was being saved, and preserve the shell of the building.

After eight months of renovation, the university’s Center for Global Citizenship will open its doors this May. The building is adjacent to Des Peres Hall, which was previously renovated to house the university’s Center for International Studies and the Reinert Center for Transformative Teaching and Learning, which features a special classroom for global education. By having the two structures side by side — with flags from all over the world lining their rooftops — SLU can offer a welcoming spot for students to take classes, meet with friends, study, and attend performances and lectures.

Kaiser Electric, which has worked on many projects at the university, is proud to help transform such a historic building into a newly renovated building for future generations.

Fischbach is a freelance writer and editor in Overland Park, Kan. She can be reached at amyfischbach@gmail.com