Arch from Past to Future

Originally built in 1907, the Syndicate Trust Building began its life with one of St. Louis’ major dry goods retailers occupying its lower floors and office tenants on its upper floors. Because of its architecture, considered by many as the greatest example of the Chicago School of Architecture in St. Louis, the 16-story, 460,000-square-foot building was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 2002.

After the Scruggs, Vandervoort and Barney department store and the local offices of the White Star Line (the agents for the R.M.S. Titanic) closed their doors, two separate renovation plans failed to revive the building, and it fell into disuse. Because of deterioration, which threatened the existence of the surrounding buildings, and because of its historic importance, St. Louis’ Land Clearance for Redevelopment Authority (LCRA) bought the building in 2002, along with the neighboring Century Building, with the goal of refurbishing them as part of the city’s Old Post Office redevelopment efforts.

Then, in 2005, Sherman Associates Inc., Minneapolis, Minn., and local developer Craig Heller were chosen to develop the Syndicate Trust building. The newly formed Syndicate Partners, LLC was tasked with turning the venerated facility into 102 condominiums and 70 apartments and artists’ lofts, 21,000 square feet of street-level commercial space, up to 9,000 square feet of gallery space for loft tenants, 125 parking spaces, a theatre, laundry, business center, fitness center and storage facilities. In addition, a mezzanine level will be added above the existing roof elevation and integrated with the 16th and 17th floors to create three-story penthouses.

Before work could begin in May 2006 on the approximately $85-million renovation project, a general contractor and architect had to be chosen. The developers turned to two St. Louis-based companies, BSI Constructors and The Lawrence Group. They, in turn, began seeking an electrical contractor that had the design/build expertise to become a partner in the project and design and install the electrical, lighting, fire alarm, phone and data, CATV and security systems, worth $5.8 million.

Guarantee Electrical Company, St. Louis, was one of the prequalified contractors solicited by the general contractor to submit a design-bid proposal. “We were invited to bid based on our reputation in the area for design/build capabilities, our extensive experience in both residential high-rise and restoration projects, and our long-term relationship with the company,” said Michael Minor, vice president of design/build. BSI and Guarantee have worked together for more than 20 years on many projects varying in size and type in the commercial, financial, data center and multi-use markets. In addition, Guarantee has worked with the architect on other historic renovation projects as part of St. Louis’ downtown revitalization efforts, including the conversion of the Southside National Bank building into condominiums and retail space.

As part of the proposal process, Guarantee used its in-house engineers to design as much of the project as necessary to meet the owner’s criteria and developed a budget for the scope of work. “BSI wanted an electrical design/build partner that understood the project’s needs and had both the required engineering and constructability capabilities,” said Roger Oertli, COO. In addition, the company examined the product options provided by the architect in the RFP and specified alternatives if the original products listed did not have the quality or serviceability levels that would satisfy the owner’s long-term needs.

All of the design work that Guarantee put into its proposal paid off, and the company was awarded the historic renovation contract in late 2005. Thirty percent of the overall electrical contract value is being subcontracted to BRK Electrical Contractors, LLC, St. Louis (founded by a former Guarantee employee in 2003), to comply with an executive order by the mayor that requires 28 percent of work performed in downtown St. Louis be awarded to minority contactors.

Reviving former glory

Demolition of the interior, abatement and new construction for the nearly 100-year-old building are being performed simultaneously. Since this is a design/build project with a strict completion schedule of January 2008, Guarantee will have to adapt its construction schedule and work force needs as necessary to address the likely discovery of unknowns after the completion of the demolition. Each apartment and condominium will offer modern appliances, finishes and amenities. Most of the ceilings will have a distinctive coffered architectural detail and will use 1 5/8-in. metal studs attached to the existing red clay tile and plaster, leaving little room for utility services and the wiring of the armored cable feeds that will serve all 172 branch circuit panels. After the existing floor material demolition is complete and the original building deck is exposed, Guarantee electricians will begin the installation of its branch circuit homeruns in the 3-inch topping slabs that will be installed to level the floor surface. The building will be fed with a 120/208, three-phase incoming service from the utility company, along with a second, redundant feed to the main distribution panel. “There will be no emergency generator or uninterruptible power supply (UPS) system. If the main feed experiences an outage, power will be transferred to the second feeder by a preprogrammed automatic transfer switch,” said Steve Kellenberger, project manager.

Each unit in the building will have individual water heaters, heat pump and fire alarm protection, while rooftop units will provide conditioned air for the public areas. General building fire protection, security and telephone/data systems also are being designed by Guarantee and installed by them and BRK Electrical. The fire alarm system for the public areas will be an addressable, programmable system and include pull stations, horn strobes, strobes, smoke and duct detectors, and tamper and flow switches for the sprinkler system. The fire alarm devices in the living units, which are isolated from the building’s alarm system, will include 120-volt smoke detectors with battery back-up, and sprinklers. The teledata installation in each apartment and condo will consist of a media center panel that will distribute phone, data and CATV wiring to jacks in each room for communications, cable television and Internet access. The security system for the building will consist of 40 CCTV cameras wired with RG59 co-axial cable for monitoring and surveillance. Card access readers, wired with Category 5 cabling, will be installed at the main entrances and exits. Wiring for the cameras will be run to and terminated at the central control and monitoring unit. Finally, Guarantee will help design and install the lighting for the building. “Most lamp sources will be either fluorescent or incandescent and fixtures will range from overhead ceiling fixtures to can lights and wall sconces,” Kellenberger said.

To help maintain the schedule and control costs, Guarantee will rely heavily on its prefabrication capabilities to build and assemble many of the project’s electrical components. The company’s prefabrication process consists of engineering and identifying work activities, from simple wiring devices to complex power distribution systems, which can be fabricated more efficiently in a controlled “shop type” environment and then packaged and delivered to the site for installation. Some of the difficulties at the site, such as inaccessible areas, space limitation, environmental conditions, tool accessibility and inconsistent work practices, can be reduced or eliminated by incorporating prefabrication

Renovation challenges

“One of the most challenging aspects of the project will be the 18-month construction schedule,” Kellenberger said. BSI Constructors has provided some solutions that will help keep the project on schedule, such as using elevator shafts and man hoists to remove the demolished materials. In addition, Guarantee will move materials during off-hours when necessary. “However, our most effective solution to save time is the prefabrication of wiring devices,” Kellenberger said.

The building’s age will be another challenge for the construction team. Of course, it was built with construction techniques that are different than those used today and in accordance with different safety codes and standards. “For example, ceiling spaces are very small, and stairwells are narrow. Demolition often uncovers surprises in the walls that aren’t covered in the original construction documents,” Kellenberger said. Because these documents cannot necessarily be relied upon, immediate responses and adjustments for the installation in any specific area must be made. “We rely heavily on the experience of our field personnel and supervisors to identify discrepancies and coordinate with the design/build team in making prompt adjustments to the documents to accurately reflect what was found,” Minor explained.

It is estimated that an average of 18, and a peak of 40, electricians will be necessary to complete this complex renovation project on time and provide the owner with a luxury residential and commercial building in the heart of a newly revitalized downtown St. Louis.

BREMER, a freelance writer based in Solomons, Md., contributes frequently to ELECTRICAL CONTRACTOR. She can be reached at 410.394.6966 or by e-mail at

About the Author

Darlene Bremer

Freelance Writer
Darlene Bremer, a freelance writer based in Solomons, Md., contributed frequently to ELECTRICAL CONTRACTOR until the end of 2015.

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