PCS Stories: UW Tacoma Paper & Stationery


A building is only as strong as its foundation. Tell us about the University of Washington (UW) Tacoma Paper & Stationery Building.
It was built in 1904 in historic downtown Tacoma. Over the years it has served as a biscuit and candy factory, stationery facility and home to the Old Spaghetti Factory restaurant. In 2016, UW Tacoma decided to renovate the building for science classrooms, social areas and event spaces. As the last of the Tacoma campus’s historic warehouse renovations, it was awesome to help turn it into a welcoming entry to campus for commuter students.
What were the project challenges?
The issues weren’t with the building itself, but rather the contaminated soil on which it sat. For most buildings we would sink a large foundation below grade, but doing so here would require extensive excavation, disrupting the soils and triggering costly remediation to remove the contaminated ground below the building.
How did working on this shared problem connect the project team?
Early communication with the GC/CM, with a lot of pushing and pulling ideas and sharing perspectives. We brainstormed some different solutions with the contractor, who compared the dollar value of our ideas. Together, we came up with the most cost-effective solution.
AKA teamwork!
Absolutely. Our relationship with the contractor was vital to this project, because they were able to determine if our plan would pay off financially down the road.
What was the bold solution?
A large foundation to support this four-story building would have required expensive contaminated soil excavation. To minimize soil disruption, we engineered shear walls supported by micropiles. These micropiles were 7-inch diameter steel-cased beams drilled into the ground and surrounded by grout, eliminating need for a below-grade foundation.
How did you come up with this idea?
A lot of digging. We’d form an idea, then the contractor would ask for specifics, then we’d dig deeper for answers. With detail they were able to determine the cost of every idea, which is ultimately how we landed on using the micropiles.
Why aren’t micropiles used more often?
They’re expensive. The decision came down to detailed financial analysis by the contractor, who ultimately decided that micropiles were the optimal choice in this case. You have to weigh the different concerns in order to come up with the best solution for any specific project.
What are you taking forward from this process?
How the solution came to be. We were all open to each other’s perspectives; instead of simply applying a one-size-fits-all foundation which would necessitate contaminated soil removal, we listened to the contractor’s concerns and went back to the drawing board.
Wes Neeley has been with PCS Structural Solutions since 2001 and was named a Senior Associate in 2018. Wes gained first-hand construction experience from growing up around his father’s construction company, and he uses that knowledge to support the planning, design and construction of a variety of project types. Wes has served as a Project Manager and Engineer on many institutional, educational and commercial projects, and he enjoys exploring creative solutions for complex problems.