Proj Overview

Project Overview

Pioneer Hall was one of the first residence halls built on the University of Minnesota-Minneapolis campus in the late 1920s. The Georgian revival–style building had been renovated and expanded over the years; however, surveys showed it was not meeting student needs, and virtually no aspect of the original structure met modern accessibility codes. The building had narrow halls, outdated electrical and plumbing systems, and was out of compliance with current building codes.

The university knew the structure had to be dramatically updated, but most of it could not be demolished because it is on the historic registry, says Gary Pooley, regional sales manager for Wells. “So, we needed to expand it and bring it up to code.”

There was certainly a lot to save. The building features a beautiful red brick exterior, slate roofs, central cupolas, terrazzo staircases, round-arched first-floor windows, and doorway stone surrounds. Its two C-shaped wings frame landscaped courtyards surrounded by low brick and stone parapet walls that are accessed through round-arched passageways. The key was to maintain the historic aesthetic, while modernizing the infrastructure.

After studying multiple design options, all developed with three-dimensional modeling software and bridge information modeling–based cost estimating, the team decided to remove approximately 60% of the original building, including the wood-framed slate roof, windows, stairways, and the central connecting section of the building; after removal, four L-shaped unconnected wings would be left. The designer then used precast concrete throughout the project to match the original red brick exterior, to achieve a durable and cost-effective solution.

More than 55,000 ft² of precast concrete was produced and erected for this project, including two hundred eighty 12-in. insulated cladding members. The producer also worked on entryway renovations on the west and east sides of the building, and hollow-core, solid slabs, double tees, and beams were used to create the floor and roof of a loading dock area.

Three-dimensional molds deliver a flawless match

To resolve issues related to the limited width of the building, large portions of the exterior masonry mass walls were removed and those areas widened to accommodate 5-ft-wide double-loaded corridors and larger living spaces. The new areas were clad with precast concrete wall panels with a combination of punched windows and curtain wall.

To match the original facade, the precast producer used an Endicott thin brick with a three-brick blend in a Flemish bond pattern. One of the biggest challenges for this element of the project was ensuring that the precast concrete wall panels matched the weathered mortar joints in the existing 1928 facade, Pooley says. To provide a seamless look, the mortar joints in the precast concrete panels were etched to a depth that exposed the red, black, and tan sands, matching the existing mortar joints.

The designer also added vertical architectural elements that represented the look of the downspouts on the original building. “It took away the need to align new brick to old, which would have been a mess to accomplish,” he says.

The precast producer had to find an innovative way to replicate the historic punched windows, which were set back among basic brick returns and wood sills. They ultimately used a three-dimensional printed mold for the architectural precast concrete frames, which included an intricate cornice completely surrounded by cast-in brick. “It was the only way to obtain the existing look of the windows,” says Matt Everding, director of operations for Wells. And the result was remarkable. “It’s a seamless, high-quality match to the original architecture.”

The next big challenge was discovered in demolition, when the project team found that the existing floors were 2 to 4 in. off of their expected elevation, says Pooley. The precast producers used three-dimensional laser scans of the building to map all points of the slab extension so they could create custom panels designed to exactly fit the unique spaces. “The owner couldn’t have accomplished such a seamless design in the schedule they had with any other material,” Pooley says. “It was a real accomplishment.”


2020 PCI Design AwardsBest Higher Education/University Building
Project Team


University of Minnesota/Board of Regents, Minneapolis

PCI-Certified Precast Producer & Precast Concrete Specialty Engineer:

Wells, Maple Grove, MN


TKDA, Duluth, MN

Design Architect:

KWK Architects, St. Louis, MO

Engineer of Record:

TKDA, St. Paul, MN


McGough Construction, St. Paul, MN

Project cost:

$104.5 million

Project size:

257,000 ft²

Key Project Attributes

  • Laser scans mapped all points of the slab extension to ensure that panels matched elevation shifts.
  • Three-dimensional printed formwork was an economical and repeatable solution to perfectly replicate the original windows.
  • Mortar joints in the precast concrete panels were etched to expose red, black, and tan sands.

Project/Precast Scope

  • Support renovation and expansion of five-story historic residence hall.
  • More than 55,000 ft² of precast concrete was produced for the project.
  • Precast concrete erection was completed in less than four months.