SLU Interim Science Building Renovations Complete in Time for Fall Semester

ST. LOUIS — McCarthy Building Companies of St. Louis completed the conversion of the former Imagine charter elementary school into an interim science building for Saint Louis University (SLU) in time for the fall semester. The goal was to create interim teaching and research space that served students and faculty after an unexpected fire in May 2017 of Macelwane Hall — the regular science building on campus — which is currently undergoing renovations as a result.

McCarthy completed the fast-track construction project in just seven weeks — with construction starting on June 19 and an occupancy permit being issued on Aug. 10 — to ensure the building would be ready for the start of classes on Aug. 28, according to Mark Smith, project director at McCarthy Building Companies. The architect on the project was Fox Architects, also of St. Louis. SLU’s planning, design and construction team also played an active role in the project.

The 50,000-square-foot renovation now houses research, teaching and office space for the university’s Department of Biology. The renovation project included the construction of three large classrooms, 10 classroom/teaching labs, and 11 research and faculty labs. Aesthetic improvements included the installation of new flooring in the lab spaces, new carpeting in the offices and painting of all of the spaces.

Renovations also required the installation of lab exhaust and other systems and equipment as well as extensive rework of mechanical and electrical systems to accommodate advanced research and teaching labs. To avoid project delays and reduce costs, the construction team proactively surveyed and sourced laboratory casework and equipment salvaged from the fire, then reworked it to fit the programs and layout in the new spaces.

The most significant challenge was completing the project in just seven weeks so the building would be ready when students arrived for the fall semester, according to Ryan Freeman, vice president at McCarthy Building Companies. “Most construction projects — even fast-track projects — involve distinct planning, design and construction phases,” said Freeman. “Because this building was renovated in response to an unexpected fire, we had to mobilize our team and move forward as quickly and efficiently as possible. The project involved a lot of hands-on ingenuity and innovation to meet an extremely tight schedule.”

While there were not specific green building strategies on the project, choosing to repurpose an existing building and reuse much of the existing lab equipment was in itself a highly sustainable strategy, according to Freeman.

The fire that led to the need for these renovations took place on the third floor of Macelwane Hall in the neuroscience lab on May 25. Damages were caused to the faculty offices as well as the lab itself. The building was unoccupied when firefighters and rescue crews arrived at the site, and fortunately, there were no injuries as a result of this fire.

Construction crews were in the process of replacing the third-story windows of the building when the fire occurred, but workers had fortunately finished for the day and were not at the building at the time of the fire. There was concern about the presence of chemicals in this science building, which resulted in the precautionary decontamination of several firefighters after putting the fire out. Seventy-five firefighters were required to contain the fire.

Rachel Leber

Rachel Leber is a freelance writer at Emlen Media. She can be reached directly at

rachel-leber has 48 posts and counting.See all posts by rachel-leber