A much-needed expansion and renovation of the University of Minnesota’s 90-year-old Pioneer Hall is currently underway. TKDA, an employee-owned provider of engineering, architecture and planning services based in Saint Paul, was selected last year by the University to lead the design of the $104.5 million project.
TKDA is collaborating with KWK Architects of St. Louis, and McGough Construction is the Construction Manager at Risk for the project.
When the Pioneer Hall Renovation project is completed, the number of beds will increase from 693 on four floors to 756 beds on five floors. The dining hall will expand from 285 seats to 850 seats, large enough to accommodate all 2,900 Superblock residents. The building will include community and recreational spaces as well as office and support spaces within a 252,391-square-foot footprint, more than 40 percent larger than its original size.
Building on the past
Brian Morse, AIA, is TKDA’s project manager for Pioneer Hall. He also was the lead for the predesign and final design work. He said teaming up with the architects from KWK for both phases was a big advantage on the project, which is on a tight construction schedule to receive incoming students in 2019.
“We worked together for over a year on the predesign, so we understood the project — and its challenges — going into design,” Morse said.
This team has a deep history of working together for the University. TKDA also collaborated with key KWK architects on the $62.5 million, 600-bed 17th Avenue Residence Hall and Dining Facility when the KWK partners were working for a different firm. That facility opened in 2013.
The second-oldest dormitory on campus — only Sanford Hall, built in 1910 as a women’s dormitory, predates it — Pioneer Hall is one of four residence halls located within the U of M’s Superblock residential district, and is prominently situated on the east bank of the Mississippi River at 615 Fulton Street SE.
Built in the Georgian Revival style, Pioneer Hall’s red brick exterior, slate roofs, central cupolas, terrazzo staircases, round-arched first-floor windows and doorway stone surrounds exhibit a high level of historic integrity. Its two C-shaped wings frame landscaped courtyards surrounded by low brick and stone parapet walls that are accessed through round-arched passageways.
A decision by the University’s Board of Regents in 2016 to preserve a significant amount of Pioneer Hall’s exterior but demolish much of its interior required that the building’s rebirth pay tribute to its significant place in the University’s history.
Design challenges and opportunities
It was not until the 1920s that the U of M began to embrace the potential of the academic, social and developmental significance of the first-year university housing experience. Housing options for male students had been provided since 1851, when the university was founded, by fraternity chapter houses, apartments, and private boarding and rooming houses. Pioneer Hall’s construction, which began in 1928, represented this significant new chapter in planning for on-campus student housing.
For TKDA’s design team, which included KWK Architects, chief among the challenges posed by the Pioneer Hall renovation project was integrating the modernization of the building within not only its historical context but in light of plans for future Essex Avenue upgrades and potential residential life facilities along the river. Social engagement is one of the key factors in academic success and student retention, particularly among first-year students. Opportunities for community-building can be accomplished by providing inviting spaces in which students can linger — like lounge kitchenettes, which encourage group cooking, or laundry rooms that are located adjacent to study areas. Modifications to Pioneer Hall, therefore, would need to make the development of student community a priority while retaining the building’s characteristic elements and sense of place.
Working through constraints
The decision to preserve Pioneer Hall’s historic presence required matching the building’s existing 9-foot floor-to-floor heights. This posed structural depth constraints and restricted the room available for new mechanical, electrical, plumbing and fire protection (MEPFP) systems, which are traditionally installed horizontally in ceiling spaces. A different approach and careful design coordination would be required to meet or exceed MEPFP building codes.
The site was no less challenging: the exterior footprint of the existing building and its walled courtyards defined the available area for expansion, and buried utilities on site included a critical university communications conduit. Moreover, the building did not meet ADA requirements: among the deficiencies were the absence of an accessible entrance and residential elevator.
The Pioneer Hall predesign study, completed by the TKDA team in 2016, found that simply correcting noncompliant corridor widths and modifying room layouts within the existing narrow, C-shaped wings would result in a loss of almost half of the beds. A more creative solution was needed.
To accommodate the new housing and dining program for Pioneer Hall, portions of the four-story structure have already been demolished, while the character-defining portions of the residence hall fronting on Fulton, Harvard, Essex and Walnut streets — constituting 40 percent of the upper floor areas — are being preserved and renovated. By expanding those floors toward the interior courtyards with new construction and removing all interior partitions and stairs, new residential communities will be located on each side of the widened corridors.
Both east-west connecting wings — the spine of each “C” — have been demolished and will be replaced with a single, wider center wing to match the building’s historic exterior. A new fifth floor atop the center portion of the new east-west wing will add needed housing capacity. The new fire-rated roof construction will replicate not only the characteristic slate roof of the original building, but also will include the unique dormered rooms that have defined living in “PIO” for so many students over the years. The new main entrance will front to the north off the Essex pedestrian corridor.
The making of a student community
Eighteen residential communities consisting of 31 to 45 beds will be constructed. Typically, each community will have a community advisor unit, community lounge and a study room, while a larger floor lounge with a kitchenette will serve several communities on the same level. Student living spaces are generally double bedrooms; ethernet access, wireless connectivity and individually controlled intelligent thermostats with occupancy sensors are provided. The project team addressed the MEPFP constraints posed by limited floor-to-ceiling heights by relying on numerous small distributed air-handling units and vertically distributed ductwork threaded carefully through the floors to provide fresh air to hallways and individual rooms and minimize impact on living spaces.
Accessible community restrooms will serve up to 12 students. Required accessible living units are provided, some with their own private restroom, as well as apartments for a Residence Director and Assistant Residence Director. Elevators will provide access to all floors, and all building entrances will be accessible.
The newly constructed 850-seat dining area will be located at street level beneath the new east-west center wing and extend out into the southern courtyard space defined by the existing south wings. In keeping with a modified distributed marketplace dining concept, service/concept stations will be interspersed throughout the dining space with production, refrigeration and display at each station. Portions of the dining area can be closed for limited use during periods of low demand, and the dining facility will be open to the public, including those seeking dining options in the surrounding medical district.
The dining facility will be accompanied on the ground floor by building social spaces, a residence hall office, classrooms and multipurpose spaces. A new basement below the dining area will accommodate mechanical/electrical equipment. From the outside, the dining area will present a historically similar aesthetic to the original structure and offer southern exposure toward Fulton Avenue and the river through large windows.
Embracing sustainable practices
Sustainable practices will include the dining hall’s new roof, which will be vegetated with native plants and visible from student units above. The roof will absorb and filter rainwater that would run off a typical roof. Water and energy use will adhere to sustainable design principles. To pay homage to the numerous trees removed to accommodate construction, some of the trees will be turned into large community-dining tables located within feet of where the trees themselves previously grew. The stormwater system will capture and store roof and surface runoff, which will be directed to chillers atop nearby Moos Tower as part of a coordinated districtwide solution to stormwater management.
A new loading dock will consolidate operations to the east, where bicycle and moped parking will be provided. Existing parking areas to the north of Pioneer Hall will be maintained and will be on-grade and accessible to the new main entrance.
“This project is much more than providing room and board for freshmen,” Morse said. “We want these students to thrive at the U and graduate, so we worked to ensure Pioneer Hall will create that positive first-year experience. From introducing complete handicap accessibility into a historic building, providing state-of-the-art data and communications systems, adding much-requested multipurpose and recreation rooms and a mix of study area options and social interaction spaces — every decision we made was made with the goal of enhancing the student experience.”
When completed in time for a new class of incoming freshmen in fall 2019, Pioneer Hall once again will be ready to help its residents address the challenges of academic rigor, personal development and social connections at a pivotal time in their lives.