Revitalizing Through Adaptive Reuse

In metros across the country, the urban core is seeing a resurgence of attention. After years of suburban sprawl, many developers are refocusing efforts on bringing people and businesses back into city centers. Despite many years of neglect, most of these urban areas already have existing buildings, several with historical significance. These structures are ideal candidates for adaptive reuse, the renovation of a building, maintaining its cultural or historical significance, but repurposed for today’s market.

As downtowns see more and more people coming back, both multifamily and hotel adaptive reuse projects are on the rise. There’s an appreciation for living somewhere with character and significance, but improved to have modern amenities.

As development teams approach renovations rather than new builds, it’s important to identify how the construction process differs.

“Working on an adaptive reuse project definitely keeps us on our toes,” said Jim Calvert, Director of Construction with Worcester Investments. “Even with a significant emphasis placed on the design stage upfront, we still discover new challenges each week. Things we thought we had figured out, we now have to rethink. The design process really doesn’t stop until the project is finished.”

Crucial Pre-Planning

“When it comes to renovating an existing building, it’s important to take an exhaustive look at areas where we can test and access to determine the right approach to both budgeting and planning,” said James Johnson, Senior Estimator at MW Builders. “Ultimately, we know that there will be surprises along the way, but our goal is to do as much as we can on the upfront to anticipate them and then build in contingencies with the expectation of making changes during construction.”

For the Flashcube Apartments adaptive reuse project in downtown Kansas City, weekly pre-planning meetings and bringing in subcontractor expertise early on helped provide the team with knowledge to bid the project as accurately as possible and begin planning for construction. Since the project included replacing all 2,346 panes in the glass curtain wall that required review and approval by other outside parties, the MW Builders team linked up with those experts early on.

Preparing for the Unknown

With adaptive reuse, adjusting a building from one function to something new doesn’t always pose problems. What can cause headaches is updating buildings built in a past era to today’s construction standards.

The Flashcube Apartments building, which was previously used as office space, ran into some of these code adjustments. “We spent more time than expected on ensuring floors were flat enough and walls were straight enough to meet today’s standards,” said Alan Armour, Superintendent at MW Builders. “The goal was to closely examine what we could refurbish rather than replace, and in some instances, that worked out exactly like we expected. In other places, it required some design changes and adjustments while in construction.”

A dedication to clear and constant communication is essential on any project but becomes especially important when working in an older building. Looping in the Owner and team quickly helped the group come to a decision on how to move forward, which helps keep the project on track.

“Whenever we encounter unexpected issues, our first step is to identify possible solutions,” said Armour. “Spending the time addressing issues and coming up with alternatives or design fixes helps to not only keep the project’s momentum but also gives us a chance to build our relationship with our partners.”

Having partners on the same page, looking for the right balance between design and constructability, makes the process much more efficient.

Future Focused

“It all comes down to the right team,” said Calvert. “Ownership, design, field, project managers, and more. Keeping that open line of communication helps keep everyone rowing in the right direction.”

Bringing the neglected, empty buildings back to their former glory will provide metros across the country opportunities to address the need of urban dwellers looking for a place to live with great access to public transportation, high-end finishes and amenities, and the thrill of living in historical landmarks.