Your Questions Answered: Modernizing an Occupied Building Part Two

featuring Andrea Righi, Matthew Chalifoux

April 06, 2022

 Elevator renovations at Levin were done in phases; two elevators were removed from service for each phase. Post renovation, tenants were able to use the new elevators and were excited to see the enhanced features and improved service.

Phased modernizations allow for important building updates while minimizing disruption to both tenants and key operations. But what are some ways to ensure success and reduce potential negative impact of these often complex projects?

Some of the work you will be doing may have a negative impact on the work environment of our staff or tenants. How do you keep building occupants happy and productive during the construction?

The project location, scope, and building size all factor into construction durations. It’s not unusual for a phased modernization project to last anywhere from 18 months to five years. Since this can have significant impact on tenants, we believe it is crucial to engage them in the process. When they are aware of all the benefits of the modernization — and are involved during the decision making — their stress and concerns of inconvenience are reduced. It’s also important to remember to communicate to building occupants the progress that is being made as it happens. When people see examples over time of their space changing, it can have a positive impact.

The Theodore Levin US Courthouse modernization was completed in seven phases over 45 months. After each phase, the team evaluated their work, sought feedback from tenants and identified changes to improve future phases. An example of leveraging this process to the benefit of the building and users were some of the office modifications. Rethinking the systems layout allowed the perimeter ceiling to be raised, maximizing the window exposure and daylight. Users’ reactions were so positive that a similar design was utilized in two additional space fit-outs added to the project scope, and the design will be used as a template for future modernizations.

High winds can happen on any project site, but for a project that was restricted to off hours and when the building was unoccupied, the potential to impact the schedule goes up. Detailed planning and communication was required to deliver the project on schedule.

Sometimes clients require the contractor to have a “move coordinator” on their team to be the point of contact for planning the tenant moves to and from swing space. The move coordinator can create a project newsletter and/or other informational materials to share with the tenants through an internal website. This communication keeps tenants up to date on project progress and offers information and photos related to what is happening behind the construction barriers. Another positive strategy is to schedule tenant events that coincide with project milestones. This could include a celebration at the end of each phase, at the topping out of steel, or when an important building amenity is successfully transformed and brought back online.

We’ve been involved in modernization projects in the past and the projected schedule always slipped, impacting our internal planning. How do you manage your work to avoid this from happening, or work with us to address the potential impacts?

Regular sharing of schedule updates is critical. The initial effort by the design and construction team is to identify creative options for bringing a project back on schedule. If schedule changes have to occur, having meetings with individual tenants/agencies that may be impacted to get their input on how this will affect them allows the team to understand and identify methods to minimize or mitigate the impacts. It’s important that the project team take ownership of, and clearly communicate, the issues, even if they are caused by something the team can’t control (like weather). If the delay is because of the team, share that and explain what is being done to prevent it from occurring again in the future. This is about building trust; if the tenants feel that the team is not sharing information, they will be less cooperative.

Some of our tenants/users have valuable materials and objects in their spaces. How are these addressed when construction is occurring in those areas of the building?

Move coordinators are essential during construction to help bridge the gap between tenants and the design and construction teams. These individuals work with tenants on all aspects of the move — including cost estimating, scheduling, hiring a moving company, managing the workers, and communicating with tenants — and are generally the main point of contact.

The scope of the project influences how much needs to be moved out of the space. If the tenants are going to move back into the same space, the solution may be different than if the tenants are moving into a new space within the building. However, tenants should remove anything of value out of the construction zone during the modernization, because often, the general contractor’s insurance policy will not cover damage to the tenant’s objects.

Office renovations that increased the ceiling height along the perimeter and moved mechanical systems inboard increased access to daylight and views of the city for tenants.

Sharing the details about moves and what a tenant may be responsible for must occur as early in the project as possible to allow them the time to plan properly before they are required to move. In some instances, the move coordinator may develop an inventory of the office suite at the beginning of a project. When it is time for the tenants to move to swing space, that inventory can be used to clearly indicate areas of responsibility and identify which elements are the tenant’s responsibility to move versus items that the construction team will salvage or protect. Providing clear information and being proactive provides a framework that appeals to most tenants, simplifying the move process.


Andrea Righi

Senior Planner

Matthew Chalifoux

Senior Historic Preservation Architect

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