School of Medicine

Construction of neuroscience building perseveres despite pandemic

Construction progresses on the neuroscience research building in early August 2021. Downtown St. Louis and the Arch are seen in the background. (Photo: Matt Miller)

COVID-19’s global wrath began to intensify in early 2020, just as Washington University in St. Louis was scheduled to break ground on one of the most significant neuroscience research buildings in the U.S. and one of the most critical facilities projects in the history of the School of Medicine.

However, as the virus shut down the university that spring — indeed, the world — it failed to derail progress on the 11-story, state-of-the-art building designed to nurture and advance some of the world’s leading research on the brain and the body’s nervous system.

After years of planning, workers broke ground on the research center in spring 2020, and the building at 4370 Duncan Ave. is on track to open in July 2023.

Not only has the project remained on schedule, but it’s delivering within its $616 million budget at a time when costs have skyrocketed due to the pandemic’s significant disruptions in the construction workforce and material supply chains.

“It all comes down to collaboration and planning among our project team, project stakeholders, and our design and construction partners,” said Melissa Rockwell-Hopkins, the medical school’s associate vice chancellor and associate dean of operations & facilities management. “Frequent communications, problem-solving and adaptability proved essential for staying on track.”

Such qualities represent the heart of the neuroscience center. The 609,000-square-foot building will unite nearly 900 researchers. “Neighborhoods” organized around research themes — among them, addiction, neurodegeneration, sleep and circadian rhythm, synapse and circuits, and neurogenomics and neurogenetics — will bring together people with common interests from multiple departments.

Additionally, the building’s location at the eastern edge of the Medical Campus is intended to inspire health-minded entrepreneurial pursuits in the 200-acre Cortex Innovation Community, one of the fastest-growing business and technology hubs in the United States.

“This structure is one of the university’s most ambitious, and it is poised to have positive and profound effects on the health and quality of life for thousands of people with neurological conditions,” Rockwell-Hopkins said. “Construction delays, even during a pandemic, simply are not an option.”

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