Transforming Former Chicago Sun-Times Printing Plant into State-of-the-Art Data Center

Mortenson Construction and QTS Realty Trust have revived the empty Chicago Sun-Times printing plant in Chicago’s Pilsen neighborhood as a high-tech hub for the digital economy. The first phase of this massive, highly secure data center opened on July 1 with an initial 48,000 square feet of raised floor data hall space and associated critical power and is scalable to 24 MW of critical power and 133,000 square feet of raised floor data hall space.


“QTS’ world-class facility is just what the Chicago market needs. There is pent-up demand for data center capacity, especially so close to downtown, as every company from startups to global leaders are increasingly moving to digital businesses built on collecting, crunching and analyzing enormous amounts of data to create products and services,” says Andy Stapleton, the Mortenson construction executive who led the renovation. 


Along with consulting engineer ESD Global and lead architect Corgan Associates, Mortenson and QTS creatively repurposed parts of the building when possible while constructing a highly efficient and convenient layout for data center clients. Mortenson reconfigured the loading area by adding bigger doors to some of the old loading docks where newspapers were placed into delivery trucks, making them the entry point for the secured receiving area with 10-foot clearances for servers and other data center gear. The massive reinforced floors that run down the center of the building and supported printing presses are being reused to hold heavy electrical equipment that will power clients’ servers.


Mortenson gutted parts of the building to maximize ease of use in installing equipment into the data center and for ongoing operations. For the first data hall, it built the configuration room next to the receiving area, so clients can unload and unpack equipment without moving it greater distances. Mortenson installed the lift next to the configuration room so servers can be conveniently transferred to the raised computing floor. Each data hall will repeat this pattern, with its own secure receiving area, configuration room and lift.


In addition, Mortenson constructed new office space and shared “touchdown” rooms near the data hall so clients can work close to their computer operations when necessary instead of going back to their offices. Other amenities include first- and second-floor breakrooms, with plans for an onsite gym.


“Mortenson’s expertise in data center construction, the Chicago market and adaptive reuse is second to none, and these strengths came together beautifully in our Chicago data center,” says Nabon Marsico, QTS Chicago site director. “Just like QTS, Mortenson’s commitment to quality, safety, collaboration and client service has made this project a true team effort that has produced an exceptional facility.”


Other partners in the project include structural engineer AG&E Structural Engenuity, civil engineer Eriksson Engineering Associates, mechanical contractor The Hill Group, and electrical contractor Continental Electric Construction Company.


QTS is hosting an open house on July 15 from 2 to 6 pm at the Chicago data center, 2800 S. Ashland Ave. QTS and Mortenson executives will be available to meet with reporters and other guests.