Transform UMSL: Blake Sutter discusses work underway to reshape UMSL campus

by | Aug 14, 2023

Sutter serves as the assistant director of planning, design and construction and is responsible for day-to-day oversight of the $100 million initiative.
An excavator sits amid the remains of the Sassin Building on South Campus.

An excavator sits amid the remains of the Sassin Building on South Campus. The building, which had served as the home to English Language Services, was torn down as part of the Transform UMSL initiative, which is consolidating the university’s academic core on North Campus while clearing land south of Natural Bridge Road for the proposed North St. Louis County Business and Workforce District. (Photos by Derik Holtmann)

Transform UMSL is a bold and ambitious initiative designed to reimagine the University of Missouri–St. Louis and build the metropolitan campus of the future. For 60 years, UMSL has served the St. Louis region, and it continues to Rise Up for St. Louis by delivering on its commitment to lead the region in driving inclusive prosperity, as well as access to high-quality, affordable education. Transform UMSL will help to position UMSL to serve the region and our students for generations to come.

The university is committed to sharing exciting details about Transform UMSL.

Blake Sutter

Blake Sutter is the assistant director of planning design and construction at UMSL.

Below is the first Q&A segment with Blake Sutter, assistant director of planning, design and construction for UMSL. Sutter is managing UMSL’s four-year, $100 million Transform UMSL initiative and is responsible for day-to-day oversight of the project, including contractor oversight as well as collaboration with campus leaders.

Also, you’re invited to visit the Transform UMSL webpage to learn more details about the many ways that UMSL is transforming and Rising Up for St. Louis! This website features project details and updates as well as a place to submit questions about the projects.

What is Transform UMSL?

Transform UMSL is a $100 million, four-year major redevelopment of the UMSL campus. The first phase of the initiative will create a cohesive academic core on the campus north of Natural Bridge Road, which involves comprehensive renovation of the campus libraries, classroom and community spaces. Transform UMSL grew out of UMSL’s Campus Master Plan, and consolidation efforts from August of 2020, completed in 2021, and focuses on bringing key academic programs from South Campus to North Campus to better serve students.

With the establishment of the North Campus academic core, over 35 acres will open on South Campus, paving the way for UMSL to launch the North St. Louis County Business and Workforce District. This District provides an opportunity for UMSL to build out its current physical (University Eye Center) and mental health academic programs and community services, such as the Children’s Advocacy Center and Center for Trauma Recovery. The District is well positioned to improve job access and growth with workforce, business and research development that will enhance economic opportunity in North County.

What buildings and academic programs are included in the scope of the Transform UMSL initiative?

The establishment of a North Campus academic core includes the construction of new buildings and renovations to several buildings. Demolition is already underway on the J.C. Penney South Building and Conference Center, paving the way for construction of the new Richter Family Welcome and Alumni Center; renovations of the Social Sciences and Business Building and Tower will become the new home of the College of Education; the Arts Administration Building is undergoing renovation to house the Department of Music, and both the St. Louis Mercantile and Thomas Jefferson Libraries are being renovated to improve the student/user experience.

In addition to renovations, several campus buildings will be demolished, paving the way for future development, increasing operational efficiencies, and reducing operating and deferred maintenance costs. On South Campus Marillac Hall will come down following a move of the College of Education to North Campus. The Music building and the ELS Language Centers-St. Louis on South Campus will be demolished. Demolition of the Sassin Building was completed in early August. On North Campus, the SSB Tower is also slated for demolition, and the old Post Office was demolished in June.

How is UMSL funding the Transform UMSL initiative?

In 2022, the state of Missouri approved $40 million in American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) capital funding for UMSL, and with Gov. Mike Parson signing of the FY23 state budget, Transform UMSL was launched. As a follow up, during the 2023 legislative session, the Missouri legislature and Gov. Parson approved an additional investment of $20 million in capital ARPA funding to support the Transform UMSL initiative.

Additionally, some projects, such as the Richter Family Welcome and Alumni Center, at the site of the former J.C. Penney South Building, and the University Libraries project are also supported by private donor funding.

When will Transform UMSL be complete?

The first phase, establishment of the UMSL North Campus academic core, will be complete by the end of 2026, as required by ARPA regulations guiding completion of all capital projects. The Transform UMSL initiative is comprised of multiple projects with varying degrees of involvement and phased in completions. UMSL leadership is currently working with community partners, including public and private institutions about development within the North St. Louis County Business and Workforce District.

Who is leading the Transform UMSL initiative?

A core team of UMSL leadership and staff are directing the Transform UMSL initiative. Matt Prsha, executive director of Facilities Management, and myself, the design project manager, are responsible for the overall project management for the initiative, including day-to-day management of all external contractors and vendors on the project. Additionally, Chancellor Kristin Sobolik, Chief of Staff Adella Jones, Vice Chancellor of Finance and Administration Tanika Busch, Provost and Vice Chancellor for Academic Affairs Steven Berberich, and Vice Chancellor of Research and Economic and Community Development Chris Spilling are working closely with the project managers as Transform UMSL moves forward.

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