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Landlords And Wellness Experts Mobilizing To Revamp Buildings, Standards

Millions of office workers were driven out of their workplaces this spring by the coronavirus, and many are still working from home. Even though that forced experiment has worked far better than almost anyone anticipated, sooner or later, corporate offices will reopen. And many landlords and tenants are getting ready to drastically increase their buildings’ ability to protect health.

Wellness experts are also preparing for this new world.

“We have been mobilizing,” International WELL Building Institute Senior Vice President Jaclyn Whitaker said July 23 during Bisnow’s Chicago Deep Dish: Sustainability & Wellness webinar.

Landlords And Wellness Experts Mobilizing To Revamp Buildings, Standards
150 North Riverside

The New York-based firm created the pioneering WELL Building Standard, the first rating system to focus exclusively on how buildings impact human health. It was also readying WELL v2, the follow-up rating system, when the coronavirus hit and sent it back to the drawing board.

The prevention of infectious diseases hadn’t been given nearly as much weight as providing occupants with light, fresh air and fitness opportunities, all of which mean higher ratings from IWBI, which can help tenants decide where to lease space. But the institute began consulting groups of experts to update WELL v2 to reflect the office world’s new concerns and will start unveiling new guidelines in late summer or early fall. 

“Many thousands of people have joined us in the dialogue,” Whitaker said.

Developers are also making changes to new projects.

Riverside Investment & Development finished its 1.2M SF 150 North Riverside tower just three years ago, and even though the Class-A property used state-of-the-art features, Riverside is further updating the project so tenants can come back with confidence, according to Executive Vice President Tony Sacco.

The first thing tenants ask about is air quality, he said, and the building opened in 2017 with what was considered an advanced filtration system, one used in hospitals.

But the developer is adding another level of safety by using bipolar ionization air-cleaning devices. Other changes to 150 North Riverside include a system to move the building’s entire daily population from the lobby to their offices without placing more than four people on an elevator at one time. In addition, tenants can use their mobile devices to gain access.

Landlords And Wellness Experts Mobilizing To Revamp Buildings, Standards
Clockwise, from top left: Riverside Investment & Development Executive Vice President Tony Sacco, WELL Building Institute Senior Vice President Jaclyn Whitaker, North Wells Capital principal Anthony Lindsay and Cyclone Energy Group President Benjamin Skelton.

“You can come to the building, go through the turnstiles and up to your space never having touched a door or a keypad,” he said.

Riverside studied peer-reviewed science as it considered how to revamp the building, Sacco added.

“Always use subject matter experts that are smarter than you,” he said.

Riverside will also soon open its 55-story Bank of America Tower at 110 North Wacker Drive and in 2022 plans to finish the 1.5M SF BMO Tower next to the West Loop's Union Station. 

“We're looking at rolling out broader changes at the to-be-completed projects,” Sacco said.  

Not every reconfiguring strategy has to be costly.

“There are ways we can address this without massive investment,” North Wells Capital principal Anthony Lindsay said.

He advised landlords to look at existing features, such as rooftops and stairwells, and figure out how tenants can use them to increase access to fresh air and light and avoid crowds, including opening up stairwells for daily use, especially for those on lower floors.

“People are apt to walk up five flights of stairs today, rather than hop on an elevator with five people.”

However long the crisis persists, Sacco said it will leave a permanent mark on the office sector.

“Much in the same way that a computer on every desk changed the way the workplace functioned, we see the current circumstances as creating another inflection point in terms of the level of awareness and focus on the relationship between building performance and the day-to-day lives of its occupants.”

Contact Brian Rogal at brian.rogal@bisnow.com