A Towering Success: Saint John’s on the Lake

Milwaukee, WI

Sitting on the shore of Lake Michigan, just outside downtown Milwaukee, is a retirement living center unlike anything you’ve ever seen. Saint John’s on the Lake  offers living solutions from independent living through skilled care and short-term rehabilitation, but it’s far from your typical “nursing home.” Its high-rise apartments overlook Lake Michigan, and the community offers more amenities than most of us can claim in our own neighborhoods – nearby access to walking trails, parks and the lakefront; an aquatic center with indoor pool and whirlpool; a salon, woodworking shop, fitness center, on-site bank, chapel, bistro, massages, restaurants and more.

Saint John’s, The Sequel: Two Towers

With living this good, it’s no surprise that more and more people like the idea of spending their golden years at Saint John’s. But to accommodate more residents, Saint John’s needed to expand – with a second, 22-story tower.

CENTRIA District Sales Manager Fred Fischer explained that a relationship with St. John’s has existed since the first tower was erected. “They built a tower probably ten years ago,” said Fischer, “and this was the second tower expansion to that facility.” Eppstein Uhen was brought in as the architect – one that CENTRIA knows well. “We have twenty-plus years of experience working with Eppstein, said Fischer.”

Don’t Mess with Success

The products chosen for the original tower had performed well in the intervening years, so they made an easy choice to clad the new tower. “We previously used insulated FormaWall panels on the last project,” Fischer explained. “When they designed the second tower, they decided they liked the product, and it was going to be used on the entire tower.”

“They wanted it to match the existing building,” said Fischer. “How do we design it to look like that and function properly, and how do we accommodate the right framing and the right wall types – the coordination between adjacent materials like windows or expansion joints?”

The A-Team

To tackle these challenges – and more – it was crucial to have a team with solid history working together. The contractor, VJS Construction Services, hired Construction Supply & Erection (CSE). Fischer said CSE is “VJS’ preferred subcontractor for this type of material on larger projects, because they trust them, and they know they have the horsepower to pull it off.” Not only that, CSE and CENTRIA also have a 30-plus year history working together on all kinds of projects – including the original St. John’s Tower.

“We were a dealer for CENTRIA since almost the beginning of our company,” said CSE executive vice president Mike Henke. “We like partnering with companies that are the premier manufacturers of products, as it allows us to be a premier installer in the metal panel world.”

IMPressive Specifications

As more and more contractors, designers and clients are discovering, insulated metal panels (IMPs) are a virtually unbeatable choice to clad a wide variety of different construction projects. “Our product is very low-maintenance,” said Fischer. “The long-lasting paint finishes that are used and the fact that there’s very little exposed sealant help with that.”

Since insulated metal panels – like the FormaWall Dimension Series chosen for Saint John’s – are a comprehensive cladding product, there is no need for multiple trades taking turns adding their layer to the building envelope. In a single step, the envelope is complete. Henke explained the FormaWall Dimension Series panel also “has a high R-value for the thickness and material. You get a thermally well-performing wall without a lot of building thickness,” he said.

Luckily, all of these benefits don’t come with a steep price tag. “The costs are competitive with other building products,” Fischer explained, “and it’s a cost-competitive wall assembly when you don’t have to build huge thick walls with all these different components like sheathing, waterproofing and insulation girts plus some sort of cladding. Ours is an all-in-one system where you put it right up against the metal studs and you’re done. It’s very quick and economical.”

Installing with a Quickness

That efficiency was vital on the Saint John’s project. “They were pouring concrete over the top of us and wanted us to follow behind them, which is typically not done in metal panels,” said Fischer. “When they’re pouring concrete, they want to enclose the floors below as quickly as they can, so we had to follow right behind him with the insulated panel,” he said.

The all-in-one nature of insulated metal panels expedited this erection and assembly process. As a result of this design, the CSE team was able to complete the envelope efficiently. But that doesn’t mean the project was without its challenges.

Storage Challenges

A high-rise is an obvious match for a downtown, urban area – because there simply isn’t space to spread out horizontally. However, that presents challenges for the building products themselves. “They’ve got very little room on-site to store materials,” said Henke, “so we had to arrange for offsite storage for most of the materials and then bring them to the site as needed. It became a bit of a material management exercise on our part.

Tolerating Tolerances

The nature of concrete construction tolerances also proved challenging. “One of the biggest challenges with a project like this is that it’s a concrete structure, and concrete structures have greater tolerances,” Henke explained. “Each floor might be just slightly different, so the stud work needs to accommodate some of that movement. Still, we’re expected to make everything fit and look perfect.” Insulated metal panels were the ideal solution, offering the flexibility to correct for these wider tolerances while still providing a weather-tight, thermally unbroken and attractive exterior.

Great Success

Everyone agrees, the project is an unqualified success. “When you have teamwork like that, and collaboration that goes from the architect to the contractor, to the installer, those projects become some of the best,” said Henke.

“The building looks really nice and everybody’s very happy with it,” Fischer added. That’s pretty much as good as it gets!”

To learn more about CENTRIA products and how we can work together to get more efficiency, speed and quality out of every project, reach out to a CENTRIA representative near you.


  • Market Segment


  • Architect Name

    Eppstein Uhen Architects, Inc.

  • Dealer

    Construction Supply & Erection, Inc.

  • Installer

    Construction Supply & Erection Inc.

  • LEED Certification