Addressing COVID Health Risks with the WELL Building Program

MariaHOLT News

Photo of Architect Krysta Aten-Schell who is also WELL Building Certified

HOLT Architects is Addressing COVID Health Risks inside Office Buildings with the new WELL Building Standard Program. When Krysta Aten-Schell considered pre-school for her daughter this fall, she had two key concerns: would the educational program nurture her 4-year-old, and would the school building provide the youngster with a healthy and safe environment? As an architect specializing in healthcare design and HOLT Architects’ first team member to earn WELL Building® certification, she knew the impact a building can have on the well-being and health of adults and children.

“We spend over 90% of our lives indoors. How a building is designed & operates has a major impact on health” 

Krysta says, noting the COVID-19 pandemic has pushed this issue to the forefront for building owners and occupants.

Each day workers, customers, and students face decisions on how they interact with others in the spaces they occupy. The current pandemic highlights the significant role that buildings play in supporting health, safety, well-being, and whether offices, classrooms, or retail spaces are equipped to reduce the spread of contagious diseases. Recently, the International WELL Building Institute® (IWBI) released its latest certification program, the new WELL Health-Safety Standard®. This rating system focuses on changes that can be made in existing buildings and their day-to-day operations to support and protect the health of the building’s occupants.

HOLT is embarking on WELL Building certification for its offices. We want to use our process to show what can be done in other spaces to reduce health & safety risks.

 

Photo of Architect Krysta Aten-Schell who is also WELL Building Certified

In pursuing the WELL Health-Safety program, HOLT is following a process that would work for most buildings. It starts with an assessment to determine the building’s WELL Health-Safety Rating. The evaluation is an evidence-based, third-party verified rating focusing on operational policies, maintenance protocols, stakeholder engagement, and emergency plans. The data provides a report card analysis of a building’s health and safety deficiencies and a plan for the owners/operators to scale their future mediation efforts.

Krysta explains the process, the rating system & the benefits of the program in the Q&A below.

How does the new WELL Health + Safety Building Standard help owners reduce the health risks from COVID-19 and other infections in a building?

It helps building owners/operators respond to the challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic by measuring how well a building supports the health of the occupants and organizing proven strategies into a “report card” structure. Strategies such as wearing masks, changing seating and circulation patterns, adding workstation barriers, integrating no-touch technology, using safer cleaning supplies, altering building ventilation and maintenance routines are among the relatively low-cost changes that are effective ways to reduce the spread of disease in a building.

The changes that we are implementing will provide a measure of safety & comfort for those returning to work at the office. 

 

Photo of strategies such as wearing masks, changing seating and circulation patterns, adding workstation barriers, integrating no-touch technology, using safer cleaning supplies, altering building ventilation and maintenance routines are among the relatively low-cost changes that are effective ways to reduce the spread of disease in a building.

Strategies such as wearing masks, changing seating and circulation patterns, adding workstation barriers, integrating no-touch technology, using safer cleaning supplies, altering building ventilation and maintenance routines are among the relatively low-cost changes that are effective ways to reduce the spread of disease in a building.

What are some examples of the features HOLT is pursuing under the WELL Health-Safety certification?

We plan to achieve as many of the WELL Health-Safety Rating’s 21 features across the five core areas as possible and are currently investigating the most cost-effective way to implement these changes. Some we already have such as paid sick leave and health benefits for our employees, so those are no added costs. Others are simple and low cost, such as creating safety zones around workstations, establishing one-way travel paths, building an inventory of surfaces to be cleaned, and specifying environmentally safe cleaning products to be used in our spaces.

Some features are more challenging to address. We are currently investigating the “high-touch” surfaces in our office, such as door handles, cabinets, and our staff kitchen area to determine ways we can make these “no-touch” using low-cost measures. We are also investigating how we can bring more fresh air into our office without increasing our energy bills, and how we can provide air-sanitizing systems to reduce the possibility of smaller infected particles floating in the air.

“Many of these modifications are low cost,” Krysta says. “The changes can be prioritized to provide the greatest benefits & sequenced over time to fit into renovation & maintenance budgets.”

 Why did HOLT decide to implement the new WELL Health-Safety Standard?

We closed our offices in March and set up our infrastructure so employees could work effectively from home. Then, we began evaluating our offices to identify possible health risks and improve safety for our employees when we would re-open. We performed a computational fluid dynamic analysis of our Ithaca headquarters to understand the air movement in the space. This showed us the effectiveness of masks in reducing the spread of viral droplets through our space, but we also knew that we needed to do more than just require masks when reopening our offices. When we heard about the new WELL Health-Safety program, we knew that it would be a great opportunity for us to evaluate and plan additional environmental and policy modifications to improve safety for our employees. We want to use our office as an example and show what can be done for other spaces to reduce the health and safety risks our clients face in their own buildings.

We are committed to doing the right thing for our employees & want to set a great example for our community by showing what can be done with thoughtful analysis & design. 

Why would a building owner/operator want to undergo this certification?

Buildings that attain WELL certification through the WELL Health-Safety Rating program demonstrate the commitment its owners and operators have made to prioritize the health and safety of their staff, visitors, and other stakeholders. The Certification process provides an efficient and effective opportunity to guide, validate, recognize, and scale the efforts of owners and operators on critical health and safety issues. The third-party review process ensures integrity and consistency and results in a WELL Health-Safety seal, communicating leadership and a commitment to the health and well-being of the people who frequent the space.

The Certification process provides an efficient and effective opportunity to guide, validate, recognize & scale the efforts of owners/operators on critical health & safety issues.

 

What are the associated costs of this certification?

WELL certification fees are based on a sliding scale based linked to the size of the building and run about $2,500 for medium-sized buildings. A charge to cover the three to five days needed to assess a building and prepare a report is also applied. On-site measurements are taken for various air and water quality parameters, as well as sound and light levels. It is a distinct process from traditional building commissioning and assures that the building performs as intended, according to WELL requirements.

What is the return on investment (ROI)?

WELL has a return on investment that lasts throughout the building’s lifecycle, and the ROI can be calculated using multiple different factors:

  • Building value. WELL has a direct and indirect impact on a building’s value. WELL-certified buildings perform better for people and ultimately, this will reduce business costs and increase business ROI.
  • More productive employees. As WELL focuses on people, it has an impact on employees and their productivity.
  • Health and wellness. WELL promotes health and wellness and the benefits that come with it including reduced health costs and increased employee satisfaction rates.
  • The functionality of a building. A WELL building functions optimally and can reduce operating costs.

Reducing employee sickness and improving wellness are major benefits of WELL and a key driver of higher productivity within organizations. WELL is in use by over 4,000 projects in more than 60 countries, encompassing over half a billion square feet of real estate around the world.

We know that the COVID crisis won’t last forever, but we believe this situation presented us with a unique opportunity to investigate & improve the spaces where we work & also improve the spaces that we design for our clients. 

 

About Krysta: After attending a WELL Building seminar at the Syracuse COE in 2017, Krysta Aten-Schell decided the WELL Building Standard was a natural extension of her work as a Healthcare Architect and decided to pursue accreditation.  After a lot of studying and one big exam about architecture and the human body later, Krysta became WELL-Accredited. In addition to her WELL Accreditation, Krysta is a LEED BD+C Accredited Professional and a member of HOLT’s Shades of Green Committee that promotes the use of healthy materials and operates under the mantra “Healthy Buildings that Do No Harm”. If you have a question for Krysta, please reach out to her at kas@holt.com. More information on the WELL Health + Safety Building Standard® is available from HOLT Architects. In Ithaca: 619 West MLK / State Street. 607-273-7600. In Syracuse: 132 East Jefferson Street. (315) 459-7131 or visit HOLT.com.