Washington Engineering & Architecture Inc.

Ron Unnerstall, P.E., left, and Gary Terschluse, P.E., S.E., architect

Out of the thousands of projects that Gary Terschluse, P.E., S.E., architect, and Ron Unnerstall, P.E., have completed over the last 30 years for their firm Washington Engineering & Architecture (WEA), the ones that bring the most satisfaction are the ones they see every day.

“The local projects,” said Unnerstall, highlighting just a few:

WEA designed the athletic fields at both Washington High School and St. Francis Borgia Regional High School, the Wingbermuehle Activity Center at Borgia High, the mainstage at the Washington Fairgrounds, which the firm worked on at no charge, along with many other improvements at the fairgrounds.

The firm designed Washington’s Public Safety Building, all of the firehouses in Washington, the new buildings for Modern Auto and Straatmann Toyota, Ronsick Field in Washington and several projects for East Central College in Union.

“We do a lot of different types of projects, and we like working at home better than we like working further away, because we can see the value of our projects to the local community,” said Terschluse.

Back in 1989, when Terschluse and Unnerstall co-founded WEA, they did it with the hope of making Washington a better place to live and work. To that end, they have designed industrial and commercial projects that provide jobs for residents, entertainment projects that provide people places to have fun, and even housing projects, including development of the Lake Washington neighborhood.

“That’s how you get a community well rounded, by having those particular things to improve on it,” said Unnerstall.

First Building Was

Scenic Regional Library in Union

The idea to open an architectural engineering firm in Washington began with a conversation Terschluse and Unnerstall, who are related through marriage, had at a family wedding. Both were working in the St. Louis area and beyond, but felt the timing was right to bring their services to Washington.

“No one else did buildings,” Terschluse recalled. “Other firms did general municipal civil engineering — streets, roads, sewers, site development.”

So in 1989, the two opened Washington Engineering (the Architecture would come several months later) in a building just down the street from where they are today.

The firm moved to its present location, 1301 W. Fifth St., in 1995. They designed and built the 4,800-square-foot building, which has two floors.

In the beginning, Terschluse was the only full-time employee, as Unnerstall continued to work at his previous job and worked at the firm in the evening. Less than a year later, Unnerstall was at the firm full time and they hired two other full-time employees.

Over the years, the number of employees has been larger and smaller at times, following swings in the economy. But Terschluse and Unnerstall said they never wanted the firm to grow so large that it pushed them exclusively into a management role.

“Usually people our age are in managerial work,” said Terschluse. “They are salesmen trying to find work. They aren’t actually designing anything anymore. We are just the opposite of that . . . we actually like doing the work.”

Currently WEA employs five full-time staff and one staff member who works as needed.

While jointly managing, Terschluse, who serves as president of the firm, oversees structural engineering and architectural services, and Unnerstall, vice president, oversees civil design, mechanical, electrical and plumbing engineering services, as well as fire protection services.

The first full building WEA worked on was the Scenic Regional Library branch in Union. Currently they are working on projects for Melton Machine, Frick’s and the Washington School District’s new elementary school.

“Now we are kind of picky on what kind of jobs we want to do,” said Terschluse. “Since we are engineering based, we really enjoy industrial projects.”

The firm has done a lot of them over the years, including new building designs and additions for companies like Plaze (now PLZ) in St. Clair, Heat and Control in Union, Sporlan Valve (now Parker Hannifin), Hodges Badge and Melton Machine, all in Washington.

“Doing all the industrial work, we are providing a nice, safe workplace for a lot of people,” said Terschluse. “And a lot of times, we can advise the client on what they can do to make it better for their employees, better restroom facilities or air-conditioning or better, wider parking spaces. Little things that make work nicer for people.”

All Disciplines Under One Roof

In the field of architectural engineering, WEA is a fairly unique firm for a number of reasons. One is that it provides all disciplines under one roof.

“Since we began, we were the only company between St. Louis and Columbia or maybe even Kansas City that has all disciplines under one roof,” said Terschluse, explaining that generally firms tend to be specialized in one discipline and then work with consultants for the others.

“But we do it all ourselves,” he said. “We can pretty well take care of all their needs.”

The variety of projects that WEA works on also is unusual. While many firms will specialize in one area — retail or emergency facilities or schools, for example — WEA has worked in all of those areas and more.

“All of our projects are unique,” said Terschluse. “We don’t do the same thing twice. We are always inventing a new way of solving problems.”

“That’s what makes it interesting for us,” Unnerstall added.

Sometimes the work doesn’t involve designing a building at all, but rather evaluating an existing facility. Clients have hired WEA to come in to give advice on whether or not they should buy a structure.

“We can evaluate properties for them. Tell them what kind of money they would have to put in to it,” Unnerstall said.

It’s hard to communicate just how diverse WEA is and how far afield it will go for clients. Two years ago it was called in by a client to help in the aftermath of a chemical spill in Atlanta.

“We were called to find out what happened and help fix it so it never happens again,” said Terschluse. “You wouldn’t think you’d call an architect or structural engineer to solve a chemical spill, but this was a long term client and essentially they knew they could turn to us for anything.”

Here in Franklin County, WEA has been called in emergency situations by the Washington Fire Department to assess structural problems and by local school districts after a massive snow or ice storm to check the roof of some buildings.

“We even got called in by a fire department in St. Louis County during a big nursing home fire,” said Terschluse. “They called us to the site to evaluate the building — was it safe for the firefighters to go in, was it safe for residents to go in to claim possessions. That was during an active fire.”

WEA also provided evaluations several years ago after the collapse of New Haven Lumber and a building on Main Street in Downtown Washington.

After 30 years in business, one thing WEA takes pride in offering its clients is continuity, said Terschluse. Whether that means being able to inform a client of what specific door lock was used on a building they designed 25 years ago or what the paint number was used on a job done just a few years ago.

“Just the other day I had a client call me up about a problem he is having with a building. We did the project in 1997, but he knew he could call us and we could take care of his problems,” said Terschluse.

“We have a long term relationship with (clients),” he said. “We are not just one job and gone. We offer stability and continued support.”

Work All Over the Country

Most of WEA’s jobs are in Missouri, but the firm has partnered with other companies on major projects across the U.S.

“There was a time where we did a lot of work for a large company in St. Louis and did work under their title block doing things that they couldn’t do,” said Terschluse. “We did a lot of Home Depots and businesses like Circuit City, Toys R Us.

“The biggest building was 17 acres under one roof in California,” he noted. “We did a 5-acre Harlequin Books Distribution Center up in New York. We did the building top to bottom.”

Currently WEA is completing a project that requires them to hold meetings over Skype with an equipment vendor in the Netherlands. Last year they did the same thing with a company in China.

Terschluse Earns Third Professional License

Both Terschluse and Unnerstall grew up in Washington and are graduates of St. Francis Borgia High School, as well as the University of Missouri-Columbia. Terschluse earned his master’s from UM-Rolla (now Missouri S&T).

Just last year, Terschluse earned his third professional license. He is now a licensed professional engineer, licensed structural engineer and licensed architect. Only two other people in the state have all three licenses.

What that means for the firm is the ability to offer a wider array of services.

“It allows you to go in to meetings and just advise on a wider array of subjects,” said Terschluse.

Looking Ahead

Looking ahead, Terschluse and Unnerstall said one of the biggest challenges will be keeping up with technology.

“When we first went into business, The Missourian took a photo of Gary standing in front of a plotter,” said Unnerstall, referring to a large format printer that was about 24 by 36 inches and created drawings by actually picking up different pens to write.

In 1989, that was cutting edge, Unnerstall said, because many other firms were still drawing by hand.

“We were the first (local) firm to start using auto CAD (computer-aided drafting) and plotters,” he said.

Today, the firm uses laser plotters and auto CAD.

The work has changed in other ways too, such as the use of robotic surveying equipment on-site and drones that fly over buildings to look at roof conditions or to take photos. Those things are standard in the industry today.

“One of our biggest challenges is finding new staff, because we do so many things that it’s very hard to find somebody generalized enough to work with us,” said Terschluse. “They come in with very good talents, but very narrow, and we need someone who is very broad.”

But as the community grows with the help of projects like the ones WEA handles each year, so does the workforce.

For more information on WEA, including a photo gallery of the many projects the firm has completed, go to www.w-e-a.com.