BY ROBERT P. MADER
Of CONTRACTOR’s staff
ST. LOUIS — The historic Jefferson Barracks barn — where the Army once housed its horses and wagons — has been renovated and converted into a visitors center.
Operated by the St. Louis County Parks and Recreation Department, the new Jefferson Barracks Visitors Center in Jefferson Barracks Park was funded by $1 million in grants and private donations.
The structure has had a long and colorful history, its function evolving to reflect changes in military requirements. The Army’s marching song tells about, "when those caissons go rolling along." That was the original function of the building. It was built in 1878 as a two-level, 6,500-square-foot barn for the artillery department’s animals and wagons.
The lower level was stone and the upper level was wood, said Esley Hamilton, St. Louis County preservation historian, and the upper level was only accessible by ladders; hay and grain were lifted into it from wagons.
The rest of the former military post is much older than the barn; it housed its first infantry school in 1826.
As the need for military horses waned, the building was used to repair tanks after World War I, and the second floor became accessible when a stone ramp was built on the west side of the barn in 1925. With the advent of the New Deal, the building became a storage facility for the Works Progress Administration projects during the Depression. With the outbreak of World War II, the barn became a reception center for new inductees into the service.
The wooden, second level of the building was removed sometime after Jefferson Barracks was deactivated as a military post in 1946, but before 1950, when the federal government ceded the northern 420 acres of the post — including its oldest surviving buildings from the 1850s — to St. Louis County for use as Jefferson Barracks Park.
"The remaining stone level has had a variety of uses since the acquisition by the county, including the Red Rose Tavern and the South County police station — not at the same time — and most recently as the Jefferson Barracks Visitors Center," Hamilton said.
Maintaining the building’s historic character was a top priority in designing the renovations, said Hal Olsen, architect for St. Louis County Parks and Recreation. Working from photographs taken in the late 1870s as well as documentary evidence of the building’s appearance in 1941, Olsen collaborated with consulting engineer Burns & McDonnell on the adaptive reuse of the structure. Burns & McDonnell redesigned the mechanical, electrical and plumbing for the building, which is on the National Register of Historic Places. Heath Heating & Cooling, St. Louis, installed the HVAC systems.
"We wanted to create a facility that would be true to the 1870s design, including restoring the historic second level, while providing modern conveniences," said Gerry Williams, lead design engineer for Burns & McDonnell.
"It turned out to be a neat little project, although it was tough to match historical requirements with new codes and modern conveniences," Williams said.
For example, the building had two stories to begin with but ladders were used to get to the original upper level.
"Now with ADA accessibility we had to figure out how to get a ramp up there and it was not in the original criteria," Williams said. "But we found out that after World War I they had used it as a tank repair facility and had built a large sloping ramp to drive tanks into second floor. We incorporated that back in and we could still maintain the historical nature of building and meet the ADA requirements."
The barn is 6,500-sq ft. and had been reduced back to its stone lower level and the remains of the 12-in. slab put in to support tanks that had been repaired on the upper level. The walls are 212-ft. thick limestone mined from a quarry on the property.
The designers wanted to create a visitors center that would be responsible to the community, Williams said, so they decided to put in simple and flexible HVAC and large bathrooms and kitchen facilities. Much of the upper level will be used for community group meetings, and the designers didn’t want to confuse people such as the Kiwanis club. Consequently, the HVAC controls are regular programmable thermostats.
Heath Heating & Cooling installed four gas-fired York 90% AFUE furnaces, Paul Heath said, two on the lower level and two on the upper level. Air conditioning is provided by four York commercial grade DX units. Heath installed 520,000 Btuh of heating and 20 tons of cooling.
Williams noted that the building needed outdoor air intakes, but that was out of character for a historic building. He hid the air intakes in a recessed entryway. Similarly, the condensing units have been hidden by landscaping. Sprinkler heads are likewise concealed.
"We had to run the PVC flue quite a way to preserve integrity of the front of the building," Heath noted. "So we had to put it on the back of the building."
Installers had to run ductwork and piping through a corridor on the bottom level, Williams said, then feed through the walls into the rooms. It was easier to place mechanicals in the upper level because they were building it from scratch. The general contractor also had a major chore drilling through the thick limestone walls so Heath could run refrigerant tubing.
Designers grouped the restrooms "in a clump at the back," Williams said, enough to handle the upper level being used to capacity. They hid vent piping from the plumbing system and the exhaust fans on the back side of the building.
The ADA-accessible bathrooms are on the second level and one of the men’s restrooms has been designated as the family restroom.
The $1 million renovation was funded by local, state and federal grants, as well as private donations, primarily Community Development Block Grant from St. Louis County Office of Planning and Community Development; Economic Development Initiative Grant from the Department of Housing and Urban Development; Landmark Local Parks Program Grant from State of Missouri, Department of Natural Resources; Ameren SmartLights Grant; and Friends of Jefferson Barracks, plus funding from St. Louis County Parks and Recreation.