Project will provide ‘a decade’s worth of construction’
By CARL GREEN
St. Louis – The National GeoSpatial-Intelligence Agency, unswayed by a strong push from Illinois political leaders, has pushed ahead with locating its new western headquarters in St. Louis by issuing its final decision.
The city of St. Louis followed suit, scheduling meetings with the construction industry and with residents and business owners in the construction zone.
The NGA West project will need about 1,300 local construction workers to replace a run-down, largely vacant section of 100 acres in the middle of St. Louis with a high-tech headquarters of about 800,000 square feet that will house 3,100 good jobs. The federal agency uses satellite technology to assist the nation’s intelligence community.
NGA issued its final notice in a 31-page Record of Decision that summarizes the process and results of the siting process, which narrowed down 22 possible locations to either the city site, anchored at Cass and Jefferson just west of downtown, or an area adjacent to Scott Air Force Base in St. Clair County, Illinois.
Site clearing is now scheduled to start in time to provide NGA with a clean site ready for construction in late 2017.
The agency indicated its preference for the new city site a month ago but was required to open a comment period before issuing its final decision. During that time, leaders from St. Clair County and the southern Illinois Congressional delegation made a final push for the Scott location, saying it had substantial advantages and suggesting that the NGA decision must have been influenced by the Obama administration.
The NGA statement can be seen as a response to that campaign, reiterating the priorities of the site process, recounting the many findings that went into the final decision, and giving summaries of and responses to the public comments.
One key factor cited in the report is that the city site is closer to bedrock, so the Illinois site would require more extensive site preparation work, making it more expensive to build on even though St. Clair County would have provided the site for no cost.
The report states: “A facility built at the St. Louis city site would tie into bedrock. A facility built at the St. Clair County site would not tie into bedrock, and it would require a more robust and expensive mat foundation to account for seismic loading.”
The full report can be seen at the NGA website, NextNGAWEST.com, or at four public libraries – St. Louis County’s Meramec Valley Branch in Fenton or Grant’s View Branch on Musick Road, the St. Louis Public Library Divoli Branch on North Grand and the O’Fallon (IL) Public Library at Civic Plaza.
‘VICTORY FOR URBAN AMERICA’
St. Louis Mayor Francis Slay called the decision “a victory for urban America.”
“I am certain that the construction of a state-of-the-art intelligence agency in north St. Louis will have an immense impact,” he said. “The NGA has expressed its commitment to connecting with its new community, partnering with local schools, creating a campus seamlessly integrated with the neighborhood, and working with us on surrounding development.
“We are very proud of the work the agency and its 3,100 employees have done from our city for the past 72 years and now will continue to do so for decades to come,” Slay added. “The many benefits to the future of both St. Louis and NGA are immeasurable, promising and exciting."
Jeff Aboussie, executive secretary-treasurer of the St. Louis Building and Construction Trades Council, previously said the selection of the north St. Louis site was “probably the biggest news that the Labor Movement in St. Louis has ever, ever had,” adding “You’re talking about a decade’s worth of construction. There are going to be thousands of jobs that will come and go throughout this decade. Never have we had a project of this size and magnitude – which is huge.”
A key part of St. Louis’ winning campaign was the council’s unique “Community Workforce Agreement” pledging that at least 37.81 percent of labor hours on construction of the new NGA will go to minority workers. That more than the doubles the 17 percent inclusion goals set forth in federal guidelines.
The agreement also calls for at least 23.28 percent of all labor hours going to St. Louis city residents and that at least 6.9 percent of labor hours will go to women.
The commitment includes an expansion of the Council’s Building Union Diversity (BUD) program, which provides opportunities for minorities and women, as well as existing journeymen, to become apprentices with participating unions so that they can learn the skills needed to be employable for the rest of their lives. City residents or people living in designated “Promise Zones” would receive priority status.
Illinois officials had urged the agency to reconsider its assessment of the security and environmental impact of the proposed sites, claiming those elements were not studied properly.
But U.S. Senator Claire McCaskill (D-MO) said: “NGA made the right call, both for the agency and for St. Louis—and it’s great news for more than 3,000 employees and a proud 72-year legacy on the front lines of American intelligence right here in Missouri. St. Louis competed on merit and came out ahead, and it’s going to mean a boon to a community that’s already making enormous economic strides. This is what sustained, bipartisan cooperation can look like for Missouri, and for our national security.”
U.S. Representative Mike Bost (R-Murphysboro), who represents the area of the St. Clair County site, said he plans to keep up his attack on the site location process carried out by NGA and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, which he called “disappointing.”
The Southwestern Illinois Building and Construction Trades Council, supported the Illinois site, but its executive secretary-treasurer, Dale Stewart, said at the group’s last meeting that it is looking forward to participating in the project.
“Hopefully, both sides can work with each other,” he said. “It’s going to take a lot of trades to do this project.”
The City of St. Louis was scheduled to hold the first of several “Project Connect” community meetings last week to answer questions and develop a plan to use the project to improve surrounding neighborhoods.
Residents and business owners from Carr Square, Columbus Square, Downtown, Downtown West, Grand Center, Hyde Park, JeffVanderLou and Midtown were invited, showing how much of the city may see direct effects. Information about the project can be found at Project Connect STL's Facebook page.
The city was scheduled to hold last week an Industry Forum at the Gateway Classic Foundation downtown to begin meetings with representatives of the construction industry and the site preparation project management team. Site preparation contracts will include demolition, abatement, hauling, excavation and other site-clearing work.