St. Albans' Marriott Hall Tops Out

Edited by Christina Fisher | September 28, 2010

St. Albans School in Washington, D.C., recently celebrated a significant milestone – the topping out of the new Marriott Hall, a five-story academic building scheduled to be completed in spring 2009. The project includes the 35,000-square-foot renovation of the New Wing building, where the library is housed, plus construction of the new 35,000-square-foot addition, which was topped out recently. The funds for the project were donated by the Marriott family, which has been a strong supporter of the school. The hall will unite the campus after a century of growth and will be a key element in continuing the school's mission for the next 100 years. The school is located on the grounds of the National Cathedral in Washington, D.C.

The Marriott Hall project was designed by Skidmore, Owings & Merrill LLP. Tishman Construction Corporation of D.C. has been the owner's representative for construction management services, including assisting in selection of additional construction consultants. These include ECS Mid-Atlantic, LLC as the owner's independent geotechnical and construction materials testing and inspection agent; Scheduling Services, Inc. for assistance with schedule reviews; and Advanced Building Performance, Inc. as the owner's independent commissioning agent.

Rendering of Marriott Hall. Courtesy of Skidmore, Owings & Merrill LLP.

The Design

From the windows and terraces of Marriott Hall, people will enjoy breathtaking views of the Cathedral, the Olmsted Woods and the National Mall. Located at the center of campus, Marriott Hall will bridge the Decker Terrace and connect the Lane-Johnston Building with the Ellison Library, the Steuart building and the Lawrence Pool. The 18-month project will result in a striking and innovative academic building, constructed of glass and bluestone similar to that used in the Lane-Johnston Building 100 years ago.

The new addition will unite the Upper School by architecturally unifying the disparate buildings of the campus. The 75-foot-high structure incorporates a multitude of intermediate levels and houses nine new classrooms as well as 13 new faculty offices. The project also provides numerous “green” roofs, and incorporates an accessible garden and patio. By burying the unsightly loading dock underground, the project will literally reinvent the back of the school around a green and rejuvenated Little Field “quad.”

The design intention behind the building's façade is to match the existing campus buildings' stone and precast, as well as to introduce extensive glass into the building to open up the school to its unique surroundings and allow for natural lighting of classrooms. Overall, the Marriott Hall project will greatly improve the operations and aesthetic of St. Albans School while contributing to the great architecture of the District of Columbia.

The Construction

Construction began in September 2007 after complicated logistical planning to keep both the project and the school running simultaneously and safely. With general contractor Coakley & Williams Construction, Inc., Tishman Construction managed many complex construction challenges that arose due to the campus' sloped terrain and extensive scope of relocating existing utilities. For example, the concrete subcontractor's engineers directed that the foundations of the three existing buildings, which will be connected to the new building, be strengthened by digging – in staggered stages – 3-foot by 5-foot, hand-dug underpinning pits, then filling them with concrete. The deepest hand-dug pit was more than 35 feet deep; workers had to wear oxygen masks in that pit. The adjacent campus buildings were monitored for movement to the nearest 1/8 inch throughout the excavation and footing placement of the project.

The construction team overcame other major obstacles, including an underground stream they encountered when installing the sheet piles, and the unearthing of unforeseen site utilities. Work was re-sequenced several times to allow for modified pile installation methods and redesign of the unearthed utilities connecting the various campus buildings. Excavation was strategically planned for an extensive dewatering and sediment erosion control system after piling work was completed.

Concrete formwork began in March 2008. Again, several construction sequencing modifications were necessary during redesign of footings and foundations due to poor soil conditions. After the footings were completed, the concrete structure rose rapidly, with pours and stripping occurring six days a week from 7 a.m. to 6 p.m. daily.

Topping Out

Recently during a topping out ceremony for construction workers – a tradition that goes back to the Vikings – the last bucket of concrete was raised to complete the superstructure of the building. John Gerber, chairman of the St. Albans Governing Board, recognized this significant milestone by stating, “St. Albans is thrilled to finish the structure of Marriott Hall, for now we see even more clearly the ambitious nature of this project. Marriott Hall not only provides the school with essential space to continue its mission, but also transforms our campus.”

Vance Wilson, headmaster of St. Albans School, added, “The building connects our currently separate classroom buildings that are built over a 60-foot slope, unifying our Upper School for the first time. Marriott Hall's green roofs and terraces will be filled with species native to the area, weaving the familiar green into the fabric of the campus. We are very pleased with the support that Tishman Construction has provided during the construction process, and we look forward to completing this exciting and innovative building.”

Another tradition that accompanied this last bucket of concrete was the setting of the symbolic evergreen tree and ceremonial U.S. flag representing the topping out of the building. To many, it symbolized more than a safe and successful arrival to the topping out; it represented the beginning of another century of educational tradition.