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St. Louis Library renovation challenges SMACNA’s Wiegmann Associates

Mar 21, 2014

St. Louis Library renovation challenges SMACNA’s Wiegmann Associates

St. Louis Exterior
The St. Louis Central Public Library at night.

It’s a project with so many noteworthy aspects—and a winner of so many awards—that one almost doesn’t know where to start.

Renovation of the St. Louis Central Public Library in St. Louis, Mo., has been honored by “Engineering News-Record” magazine (Midwest Project of the Year, in the renovation/restoration category). ENR magazine also provided a safety award for the project’s construction. The American Institute of Architects also bestowed one of just a few 2014 Institute Honor Awards for Architecture on the project.

The National Trust for Historic Preservation gave it a 2014 AIA Institute Honor Award for Architecture. And there’s more.

On the sheet metal side, Wiegmann Associates Inc., St. Charles, Mo., was happy to win the bid on a most challenging job. “Right from the start, you could see that this was a project that didn’t lend itself to business as usual,” said Gerald Wiegmann, president.

waistl library
Wiegmann Associates had to work around existing equipment.


Completed as 2012 came to a close, the library, on Olive Street in St. Louis, now gets 40,000 visitors a year, according to St. Louis Today.

100-year-old structure
One primary element for all contractors involved: Don’t destroy the look-and-feel of the 100-year-old “Beaux Arts” building. The two-year, $70-million restoration project builds on construction originally financed, in part, by Andrew Carnegie.

But for all of the glory and history, what Wiegmann Associates had to do in its $5 million contract was to help its crews–up to 20 sheet metal workers and pipefitters–work around structural elements that were sacrosanct.

waistl library-26
The duct work went into the attic and the basement.

For instance, there was the attic: “We had to take the ductwork up into the attic in pieces,” Mr. Wiegmann remembered. “There could be no ductwork added to the parts of the building that visitors would see.
    
“So all of the duct work went into either the attic or the basement. Further, there were no variable air volume (VAV) boxes. There could be no moving parts within the library proper . . . we had to leave the old ceilings intact.”

Note that the project was not the first modernization for the Central Library. Some 60 years ago, air conditioning was added to the structure (which was 40 years old at the time).

“With the existing equipment, we had to work around it,” Mr. Wiegmann explained. “We added to the duct in the basement. But for most of the air-conditioning system, our work included refurbishing the old ductwork. And we had to keep the existing grills in place. We did some work on them, too.”

Library
AIA Institute honored the St. Louis Central Library restoration with a 2014 AIA Institute Honor Award for Architecture. Photo credit: Tim Hursley

Bringing it up to code
One element of the 2000s that wasn’t going to be omitted from the Central Library was bringing it up to code. That’s not exactly a snap in a building that, in many places, could not be touched.

“We had work to do on the fire dampers, to bring the building up to code,” Mr. Wiegmann said. “We needed to figure out how to add the dampers to the old structure.”

Plus, the old building had some surprises for the Wiegmann crew. “One little glitch came with the variable refrigerant flow (VRF) system, which we installed in 80 percent of the massive building’s area. As it turned out, some of the old shafts—which are still in place—were conducting hot and cold air into parts of the building.
    
“This raised heck with the temperature sensors. We had to work to prevent that air, which we originally did not expect, funneled away from those sensors, which, again, are all over the building.”

For more on the St. Louis Central Public Library, see this 5-minute video on YouTube.com.