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Building Value Back into Real Estate at 1926 West Harrison

05 October 2020
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Value-add construction can be an efficient and profitable way to enhance existing residential assets. By renovating existing structures, owners can conserve resources and utilize a more sustainable model for real estate development. Focus’ construction team has been providing value-add construction services since its inception. Everything from rapid renovation like the work completed at Evanston Place, to complete overhauls like 1926 West Harrison, the Focus construction team has experience with the array of challenges that are inherent to value-add construction.

The most extensive type of value-add work involves an older building that is no longer serving its original purpose and requires extensive repair work beyond the aesthetic upgrades typical for a renovation project. The Focus construction team is currently managing the full renovation of a building located at 1926 West Harrison Street in Chicago’s Medical District for our client - Marquette. Dating back to the 1960’s, the existing structure features a unique combination of exterior pre-cast columns and interior poured in place floors and columns. As part of the renovation, portions of the exterior pre-cast will be removed and replaced with new floor to ceiling windows. Along with the extensive exterior changes, the team will also oversee the interior overhaul of the existing 272 apartment units within the 18-story apartment building.

The renovation will total over 249,000 GSF and when finished will offer an extensive set of amenities. The new 19th-floor roof deck will include seating areas, grilling stations and glass rails with unobstructed views East of the Chicago skyline. In order to make the 19th floor amenity possible, the Focus construction team will extend one of the three elevators up to the 19th floor by expanding the shaft up through the existing machine room and upper roof structure. The team will then install structural steel in and around the top of the current elevator shaft, cut the ceiling and roof slabs for the new taller elevator shaft and install a machine-room-less (MRL) elevator to access the amenity floor.

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Continuous demolition to surgically enhance existing structures

The first step in any renovation project is demolition. On a typical real estate development project, demolition involves tearing down any existing structures, but value-add projects make demolition a much more careful process. At 1926 West Harrison, demolition is surgical in nature. Teams carefully determine which parts to save, which parts to recycle and which parts are waste. Before any changes can be made within units, teams have to check the impact of new floor plans on existing in-place mechanical and electrical system such as electrical conduit feeds that run throughout the existing concrete decks. In a renovation like 1926 West Harrison as onsite trade partners demolish, replace and improve existing systems and materials almost continuously throughout the project.

Relatedly, teams must be nimbler when working through a complete renovation. The existing conditions onsite may vary from floor to floor or from unit to unit. Structural damage found during demolition has to be addressed before any improvements can be made while teams work to maintain budget and schedule simultaneously.

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Efficiencies through overlapping schedules

At 1926 West Harrison, the Focus construction team has been building value for the client, Marquette by identifying areas where the schedule can be reduced. During ground-up construction, the structure must first be built before the interior teams can start cycling through a sequence of trade work from floor to floor. Value-add construction offers the opportunity to be more creative. The Focus team saw the opportunity to create efficiencies in the schedule which are not typically possible.

For example, floor leveling is a task that typically happens at the end of construction because it is part of the final finishing process for the floors, but at 1926 W. Harrison, the Focus team is leveling floors at the same time as they demo units and install the exterior façade because they are able to work in different parts of the building simultaneously.

By creating overlapping the scheduled the team was able to save roughly 3-5 days per floor on tasks that would normally need to fall in a specific sequence later in the project schedule. Across the 17 floors, those time savings really start to add up to significant time saved, approximately 60 days cut from the schedule.

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Owner advocates and experienced builders deliver better foresight

As an integrated developer and general contractor, the Focus construction team is uniquely trained to act as owner advocates. Anticipating the unforeseen is their mindset, which drives them to ask questions no one else thought of in order to deliver smart solutions that weren’t previously considered. This is particularly important during a renovation project, where it is impossible to know what conditions will be discovered once demolition starts. It is important to mitigate as many of the hidden costs that tend to be overlooked in a typical large renovation project like 1926 West Harrison. Focus’ pre-construction approach considers this and the construction budget was adjusted to limit the risk of potential scope gaps. Investigations performed before demolition provided valuable information that allowed teams to address conditions onsite accurately. In order to accurately adjust the budget during preconstruction, the team conducted several investigations prior to construction:

  1. Surveyed the existing windows to determine what repairs or replacements would be necessary. After evaluating multiple window locations and considering different repair options various cost estimates were developed. While evaluating every window during budget preparation wasn’t feasible, the allowance for window repair was based on a systematic evaluation from a window professional.
  2. Performed selective demolition of plumbing & duct chases to evaluate the condition of pipes, current wall construction and the existing floor-to-floor construction. This exploration provided a sense of the extent to which the pipes and ducts may need to be replaced or modified and which wall types might need to be patched. Also, it provided information about the original floor construction and what would need to that patched or fire-stopped.
  3. Evaluated demolition plans compared to the new floor plans in order to coordinate locations were wall or ceiling patching would be necessary due to demo work even though this scope was not specifically identified. To do this, teams surveyed every room on the project for miscellaneous damage that was not identified on the drawings and created a database with the results. From there and prior to finalizing the GMP, our drywall trade partner walked through the project and provide an estimate for patching based on existing conditions and the proposed plan.

All of these activities provided valuable information that wasn’t available in the construction documents. It limited the risk of additional cost associated with these unknown items and provided teams with important insight into the onsite conditions that would have been otherwise unknown.

Focus’ past experience with value-add construction work guided their approach to 1926 West Harrison before and during construction. Having worked through other interior renovations like the 410 apartments at SCIO in Chicago’s Medical District, Focus teams have a proven track record when it comes to delivering on time and on budget. Teams rely on that experience and knowledge to inform the approach onsite during construction today. To learn more about Focus’ approach to value-add construction, reach out today.

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