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From a federal biocontainment facility in tornado-prone Kansas to a center honoring the military and its history in Wisconsin to an effort to stabilize a road on a high bluff overlooking the Mississippi River, dozens of projects were honored this year in ENR Midwest’s 2023 Best Projects, a competition that highlights the cream of the crop in the construction industry.

Judges reviewed roughly 65 projects constructed between May 1, 2022, and May 31, 2023, ultimately honoring 34 projects, including Best Project winners, awards of merit as well as projects selected for ENR Midwest’s Excellence in Sustainability and Excellence in Safety awards.

The projects profiled in the following pages achieved excellence while coping with a wide range of challenges, including the continuing impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic, supply chain delays and the ongoing shortage of skilled workers.

Winning projects went above and beyond in not only overcoming challenges, but in quality of work and craftsmanship and in innovative use of design and materials.

Chicago Park District Headquarters

Working in quadrants at the Chicago Park District Headquarters and Fieldhouse enabled the project team to stagger trades so that when one group finished, they could move to the next quadrant, accelerating the construction schedule.
Photo courtesy F.H. Paschen, S.N. Nielsen & Associates LLC

Honorees Show Commitment to Quality

Some examples of the honorees include the Exchange Residential Tower in Detroit, which showcases the first application of the LIFTbuild technology for high-rise construction. LIFTbuild constructs from the top down, a revolutionary approach in an industry craving innovation. LIFTbuild earned 15 patents for its unique construction processes over four years of research and development before this first proof-of-concept project broke ground in 2021.

Another outstanding project was the historic renovation of a 1920s-era hotel, the Belden-Stratford in Chicago, a gem of a building that had fallen into disrepair with the passage of time. A team of architects, historic preservationists, artisans and trade partners pulled together to execute the renovation of the structure that displays a Beaux Arts design. The 285,000-sq-ft adaptive reuse project uncovered hidden architectural elements while updating functionality and adding amenities to its 297 apartment units, completing work within budget and on time in May 2023.

Safety was top of mind during the repair and stabilization of a road situated on top of a 150-ft-high bluff with scenic views of the Mississippi River in Alton, Ill. The road had started showing signs of movement in July 2019, leading to its closure. The slope failed in January 2020, taking with it about 15 ft of the roadway and creating a scarp about 23 ft deep. To repair the slope and restore the road, GeoStabilization International provided a design-build solution consisting of several main stabilization systems: a soil nail wall, a retaining wall and a soil nail (pin) and mesh surface stabilization system.

LIFTbuild technology

LIFTbuild technology takes a vertical manufacturing approach to assemble traditional building components at the Exchange residential tower in Detroit.
Photo courtesy Barton Malow

The Top Three Finalists

Project of the Year finalists include the National Bio and Agro Defense Facility in Manhattan, Kan., where McCarthy Building Cos. applied the same stringent design criteria that would be applied to a commercial nuclear facility in the same location, thereby hardening it against tornadoes. The new facility’s mission is to enable the U.S. to conduct comprehensive research, develop vaccines and provide enhanced diagnostic capabilities to protect against foreign animal and zoonotic diseases that threaten the nation’s food supply, agricultural economy and public health.

“The team created a new drain tile layout and installed new sump pumps to remove water from the area so work could proceed.”
—Spencer Jacobs, Client Executive, IMEG

The renovated and revitalized Book Depository in Detroit is one of the first buildings to open in Ford Motor Co.’s multiyear adaptive reuse and repositioning of the iconic Michigan Central Station and surrounding landmark buildings. The project team’s challenge was to transform the weathered 100-year-old structure into a 21st -century, modern facility. Existing stairwells and shafts were infilled with steel and concrete. New openings had to be cut through the existing slabs to make way for elevators, stairs, mechanical shafts and a 4,600-sq-ft skylight that creates the building’s signature atrium ambiance that was added in the 1930s-era building designed by Albert Kahn, a noted designer of factories and industrial spaces in the 20th century.

Along the way, the project team discovered flooding in the building’s northwest corner. “The team created a new drain tile layout and installed new sump pumps to remove water from the area so that work could proceed,” says Spencer Jacobs, client executive for IMEG, which was the MEP and structural engineer on the project.

Another awardee, the Chicago Park District Headquarters and Fieldhouse features several key elements in an underserved Chicago neighborhood, including a 57,000-sq-ft administrative building, a 22,000-sq-ft fieldhouse with a gym, fitness center and an outdoor recreational space featuring two athletic fields, a grand lawn, walkways, a children’s playground, nature play areas and a splash pad. The two-story administrative headquarters is a circular building that is actually two structures bisected through the middle by a courtyard/walkway and connected by three bridges on the second story. The building was constructed in quadrants, moving clockwise as work progressed.

Exchange’s building facade

With support cranes, the Exchange’s building facade is set around the floor plate edge and temporarily supported with base bracing. The facade is installed at grade, so there is no need for high-tower crane lifts.
Photo courtesy Barton Malow

Safe and Environmentally Sound

Winners of the Excellence in Safety and Excellence in Sustainability awards stood out for their innovative approaches and execution of safety and sustainability strategies, impressing judges with excellent records and creative approaches.

A stellar safety record was reported for the construction of the first U.S. production facility for candy manufacturer Haribo in Pleasant Prairie, Wis. The emphasis on creating and maintaining a safety culture over two years of construction resulted in zero recordable injuries over 440,000 work hours spent building the 510,000-sq-ft production facility.

Sustainability and functionality were primary goals during the renovation of Pepper Construction’s regional Cincinnati office in a 1912-era building that formerly housed a mattress company. Before its revival, the once thriving 15-acre campus had been vacant for two decades. Most buildings had fallen into disrepair and were demolished. Challenged with bringing an older building back to life, the construction team strived to achieve a net-zero designation for energy use while enabling the building’s envelope to breathe properly.

Eighteen feet of slope

Eighteen feet of slope washed out before Riverview Drive in Alton, Ill., was repaired and stabilized.
Photo courtesy Geostabilization International

Meet the Judges

ENR Midwest’s judging panels included: Angelo Arzano, senior principal, HOK, St. Louis; Danielle Dy Buncio, founder and CEO of VIATechnik; Lynda Leigh, development manager, CedarSt Cos.; Marc Hanson, senior director, construction operations, CRB Group; Brandon Maurisak, transit and rail project manager, HNTB; Steven Zimmerman, JTC director, associate principal, Wiss, Janney, Elstner Associates Inc.; Sam Mishelow, director of client development, Meyer Najem; and Jill Katic, director of lean evolution and knowledge management and sustainability community leader for Barton Malow Holdings. Judges did not vote on projects in which their firms were involved or if they had another conflict of interest. The winning projects as well as ENR Midwest’s 2023 firms of the year and Legacy Award honoree will be recognized in Chicago on Nov. 28. Read on to learn more about this year’s Best Projects winners.

The Projects