Transform UMSL initiative supports university equity goals

by | Jul 27, 2023

The university is engaging with construction and design contractors from local communities most impacted by disinvestment and economic inequities.
A backhoe starts demolition on the JC Penney Auditorium as members of Hillsdale Demolition look on

A crew from Hillsdale Demolition Contracting begins to tear down the J.C. Penney Auditorium. The cleared land will make room for construction of the new Richter Family Welcome and Alumni Center. The project is part of Transform UMSL, and as the initiative gets under way, the university is taking every effort to work with construction and design contractors from local communities most impacted by disinvestment and economic inequities. (Photo by Derik Holtmann)

As the University of Missouri–St. Louis embarks on one of the most ambitious initiatives in its 60-year history – Transform UMSL – to physically redesign its campus footprint, it is embracing its mission to transform lives, including a core tenant of that mission to build inclusive prosperity throughout St. Louis.

The university is working with teams of construction and design contractors as Transform UMSL gets under way, and every effort is being given to identify companies from within local communities most impacted by disinvestment and economic inequities.

Two years ago, the university served as the lead and founding member of the St. Louis Anchor Action Network, a coalition of public and private institutions committed to addressing economic disparities in 22 St. Louis ZIP codes that make up the network’s mission footprint. UMSL, along with network members, including co-founding partner, Edward Jones, pledged to increase hiring and purchasing percentages within that footprint.

As a result, all Transform UMSL projects, including two first-phase initiatives – the renovation of the University Libraries and the construction of the new Richter Family Welcome and Alumni Center – have engaged local contractors from within those target ZIP codes.

“We’ve been glad to have opportunities to partner with women-owned and minority-owned businesses on so many of the projects that are part of this Transform UMSL initiative,” Assistant Director of Planning, Design, and Construction Blake Sutter said. “Across all Transform UMSL projects, we have established minority business development, service-disabled veteran business enterprises, women-owned business enterprises, small and disadvantaged business enterprises and veteran participation goals. When possible, we also work with suppliers in the anchor mission footprint in alignment with UMSL’s Office of Economic and Community Development goals.”

University of Missouri Chancellor Kristin Sobolik, Cara McKedy with the eddy Design Group, Matt Prsha, UMSL executive director facilities management, Kirsten Malloy, eddy Design Group, Blake Sutter, UMSL project manager, and Tanika Busch, UMSL chief financial officer attended the ceremony to kick off the renovation project of the University Libraries.

Chancellor Kristin Sobolik (from left to right); Cara McKedy, Eddy Design Group; Matt Prsha, UMSL executive director facilities management; Kirsten Malloy, Eddy Design Group; Blake Sutter, UMSL project manager; and Tanika Busch, UMSL chief financial officer attended the ceremony to kick off the renovation project of the University Libraries.

Demolition that began last week on the southern portion of the J.C. Penney Conference Center will make way for construction of the new welcome and alumni center. Hillsdale Demolition Contracting, a minority woman-owned business founded by Lakkia Davis-Hynes, is conducting the demolition. Meanwhile, Eddy Design Group, a woman-owned firm, is leading the architectural design of the Thomas Jefferson Library and St. Louis Mercantile Library renovation, which is scheduled for completion in the next year and a half.

Cara McKedy, president of Eddy Design Group, is excited to begin making an impact. McKedy said the firm was interested in the project based on its team’s previous work and the dynamic environment inherent to university libraries.

“Our team has a great history, not only with higher education design, but also with workplace design,” McKedy said. “More and more, universities are really looking for ways of bridging that connection, creating spaces that also help students transition into the workplace. Then the workplace is really looking at creating spaces that are attractive to students. There’s a real synergy between the design of those two spaces, but a library in particular, tends to be the hub, the place not only nowadays for study, learning and research, but also for interaction and collaboration. It’s a really dynamic building and environment. It’s unlike anything else on campus.”

McKedy is enthusiastic about the partnership.

“I’m glad that the university is supportive of small business and woman-owned business,” she said. “We’re not the largest shop in town. One of the reasons I went on my own and started my own firm was because I really believe people want to work with people, not with a letterhead.”

Burnea Lester, director of communication and community relations at SITE Improvement Association STL, an organization dedicated to helping businesses navigate the complex construction industry, commended the university’s approach to the project.

“The Transform UMSL initiative is an opportunity to rebuild and invest in a beautiful campus in the heart of the St. Louis community and showcase local businesses while revitalizing the area,” Lester said.  “SITE Improvement Association was proud to collaborate with UMSL and the St. Louis Anchor Action Network to educate emerging minority and women construction contractors on construction best practices during a community panel at UMSL last fall. Hillsdale Demolition, a minority woman-owned business, participated in the panel and was awarded demolition work for the Transform UMSL project. This proves the St. Louis Anchor Action Network benefits the community. Just as important as the construction and infrastructure that physically holds our communities together, UMSL has been an educational pillar for our region in community innovation, action and impact.”

Provost and Vice Chancellor for Academic Affairs Steven J. Berberich added that the initiative will fuel academic success for students and prosperity for the region.

“The transformation of our campus provides an opportunity to enhance our efforts in developing innovative ways for our students to learn, create new knowledge and engage with the community,” Berberich said. “All leading to improving our ability to drive inclusive prosperity.”

Burk Krohe

Burk Krohe