Getting the ‘Hole Story’ on WUSTL’s East Campus Project

By on April 17, 2018

by Tom Finan, Executive Director, Construction Forum STL

To passersby along Skinker Boulevard to the east of Brookings Hall on the Washington University Danforth Campus, what could be surmised from beyond the construction fence is that there was a huge hole. A dead giveaway has been “Mount McKelvey.”  The 20-foot-high mound of dirt occupies the future site of the engineering school’s new McKelvey Hall. Another huge mound occupies a site further north on Skinker, at WUSTL’s North Campus.

But just beyond the construction fence is a beehive of concrete, swarming with workers. It’s a parking garage. But what a garage: 790 spaces, all underground. Looking like something out of Star Wars that landed on campus, the garage branches out to the all nodes of the university’s expansive new front door.

The East End project includes eight major components — three new academic buildings, an expansion of the Mildred Lane Kemper Art Museum, two new multi-use pavilions, the underground parking garage and the expansive new Ann and Andrew Tisch Park.

Below is an interactive map of the East End program. Hover over the number/star to get more information about project components. Skinker Boulevard is to the right. 

Concrete forming for one of the two glass stairwell/elevator shafts that flank the garage on the north and south.

Brookings Hall is in the background of this view. The garage’s roof will be covered by a park when the building program is complete.

The large floor plate of the garage structure spreads the parking out to four quadrants, each serving one of the buildings surrounding the facility at this end of campus. Two pavilions will serve as pickup/dropoff points for visitors.  The lower level of the Schnuck Pavilion, with a cafe and outdoor dining spaces, also has a commuter bicycle hub, with locker and shower facilities.

Programmed Flexibility

Flexibility is programmed into the garage facility.  This includes energy saving LED lighting technology that can be programmed in an infinite number of ways, depending on use of the garage, operating hours, special events, etc. The facility is unique in its approach to potential future use, resulting in a design that is convertible to academic research and/or teaching space.

Garage floor slabs are designed so they allow for future low access-floor installation for distribution of data and electrical needed. Floor-to-floor dimensions are much higher than typical garage construction, allowing for the future above-ceiling area required for lab or classroom lighting and mechanical system distribution.

At the western end of the facility, the sloped ceiling area is much higher, following the “hillside” topography at the site, and resulting in a space that may be considered for large-group, event gatherings. The parking facility’s top level is planned to align with the lower levels of the surrounding academic buildings, so that the garage literally links the various academic uses on this end of campus at one floor below grade, promoting cross-collaboration of teaching and research across the university’s different schools.

“Feeding the Machine”

Ryan Moss, McCarthy’s project director on the East Campus program. 

Visiting the East Campus site at 3 p.m. last Friday (April 13), there was no sign that it was the beginning of a weekend. Crews were placing concrete forms with lifts and cranes. It was business as usual on the site.

“We have a favorite saying around here: ‘We must feed the machine,’” Ryan Moss, project director for  McCarthy, which is serving as construction manager on the building program.  Moss earned dual bachelor’s degrees in engineering and business from Washington University in 2001.

Moss said that the cat-herding job of keeping the project moving presents both human and logistical challenges. Crane use, safety concerns for workers performing tasks beneath those cranes, and coordination of parallel tasks are managed with extensive team communication and the use of 3D trade coordination and clash detection. Some of this coordination is in plain sight and some of  it is buried in the project’s infrastructure. For example, TD4 installed electrical conduit inside cast-in-place garage beams prior to the concrete pours. Prefabricated chilled water piping from Murphy Co. had just been set the morning of the site tour in above-ground cast-in-place piping boxes running from north to south.

Weather has taken a toll. Moss jokes that before the hole began to fill in with structural elements there was a massive “swimming pool” to collect runoff. Now garage floors are gently sloped to the outside edges and sump pumps in a pit below the lower level, plus five miles of drain tile, will handle the flow.

“We can’t let anything slow us down. If a problem arises and — knock on wood — that hasn’t happened yet, we must be prepared to respond quickly,” Moss said.

While the “machine” must be fed, Moss acknowledges that the workers on the project are not machines. He and the 60-plus contractors who employ over 600 workers who will be on the project at one time or another must acknowledge and respect the well-established fact that scheduled overtime causes mental fatigue and lost productivity. Working weekends on a consistent basis can impact Monday morning crews.

The human factor also applies to alertness and safety on a project of this scale. “Who did you promise that you would be home tonight?,” asks a sign near the project office.

A Picture of Diversity

McCarthy carpenter

Washington University’s established commitment to diversity in all of its purchasing is very apparent in the workforce and project management team on the East Campus project. The crew entering and leaving the site at shift change last Friday included a very diverse mix of workers.

Moss noted that a number of the workers of color on site Friday were electricians employed by TD4, arguably the region’s largest MBE-owned electrical contractor. TD4 is prime electrical on the garage project. A spokesperson from Washington University confirmed that TD4’s current contract at the East End is the largest, first-tier electrical contract the university has awarded to an MBE.


Peter Tao of TAO+LEE, was touring the site with his on-site project manager on Friday.  TAO+LEE, local architect on the East End program, is the region’s longest-established Asian American-owned architectural practice.

A&M Specialty Contracting ironworkers

Filling in the Hole

So yes, there’s a big hole on the East End of the WUSTL campus. But there’s also a lot of thought and coordination going into filling that hole.

Moss can remember the sea of asphalt parking lots that covered the east end of the campus in his undergrad days. When the building program is complete, it will include a welcome center for new and prospective students and their parents. As a civil engineer, Moss admires the design of the new parking garage, a structure that will be both functional and beautiful. But as an alum, he is eager to build the Sumers Welcome Center.

“It makes so much sense to have a dedicated building that can serve as a first stop for prospective families or alums,” Moss says. “It’s going to be an amazing space that’s all glass, allowing panoramic views of Brookings Hall and Forest Park.

“I can’t wait to come back as an alum or, it’s my hope one day, as the parent of a prospective student,” says Moss, who is a father of three.

Garage Project Team

Michael Vergason Landscape Architects
landscape architect & planner

civil engineer

utilities engineer

McCarthy Building Companies
Simms Building Group
construction managers


parking facility architect

local architect

structural engineer

mechanical, electrical, plumbing engineer








About Tom Finan