Proj Overview

Project Overview

Higher Ground Saint Paul is an emergency shelter and supportive living space in St. Paul, Minn., that provides people in need with a dignified, safe place to call home. It was the first phase of the Dorothy Day Place project to prevent homelessness in the community, and is the largest public-private partnership in state history. The facility is meant to be an architectural representation of the path from homelessness to hope and permanent stability, and precast concrete enabled that goal.

This all–precast concrete residential facility was designed to be extremely durable, able to withstand decades of abuse by a challenging resident population, while also providing cutting-edge sustainability features, including reduced energy consumption, recycled content, and indoor environmental quality.

Kirk Davis, Minnesota partner for Mattson Macdonald Young Inc., points to several benefits that led his team to choose an all–precast concrete solution. “The desire for integrated finishes, the winter construction schedule, avoiding interior columns on the upper floors by using a 40-ft slab span, the need for a durable and robust construction, and the familiarity with the team and their capabilities, made precast the obvious choice,” he says.

Precast Solution

In the design, the precast concrete panels provide architectural finish while meeting load-bearing structural requirements and serving as a truss elements to efficiencies to the project. The wall panels are load-bearing, but also provide an exterior acid-etched, colored architectural finish, and one of the vertical sections features deep returns with windows surrounded by thin-brick-covered precast concrete panels and spandrels supported off the returns. Hollow-core floors are covered with a sound mat and polished concrete topping.

One of the most innovative design features is on the second-floor roof area, where horizontal, architectural-finished precast concrete panels covering the third-floor work as trusses spanning 40 ft and resting on columns below. At their bottoms, the panels support hollow-core slabs to one side that form a second-level roof deck and support the interior slabs of the third floor. At the top of the panels, a bearing angle picks up the hollow-core slabs forming the fourth-floor level.

The designers worked in close collaboration with the precast concrete fabricator during the design phase to find efficiencies in span lengths, piece complexity, and piece to drive down cost, while delivering a durable and dependable solution.


2018 PCI Design AwardsDesign Award Honorable Mention: All-Precast Concrete Solution Award
Project Team


Catholic Charities of St. Paul and Minneapolis, Minneapolis, MN

Precast Concrete Producer & PCI-Certified Erector

Wells, Maple Grove, MN

Precast Concrete Specialty Engineer

Erickson Roed & Associates, St. Paul, MN

Engineer of Record

Mattson Macdonald Young, Minneapolis, MN


Cermak Rhoades Architects, St. Paul, MN

General Contractor

Watson Forsberg Co., Minneapolis, MN

Key Project Attributes

  • Long-span truss spandrels keep floors below open for programming.
  • Precast concrete panels designed for future skyway accommodation.
  • Project met B3 guideline stainability requirements for site, water, energy, indoor environment, materials, and waste.

Project/Precast Scope

  • Build a five-story emergency shelter and residential facility in downtown St. Paul, Minn.
  • Precast concrete pieces include 38 beams, 34 columns, 54 solid slabs, 824 hollow-core slabs, and 341 wall panels.
  • Erection was completed in just two months.
  • Project cost: $40 million
  • Project size: 111,261 ft²