Improving Workplace Air Quality

Improving air quality during COVID-19

Co-written by Harkins Director of Interiors Matt DeGourse and Baltimore Tenant Advisors / Newmark Knight Frank Executive Managing Director Michael Singer

Amid the COVID-19 pandemic, indoor air quality has become a major concern to businesses, building managers, tenants, and employees. It can impact the health, comfort, well-being, and productivity of building occupants. Did you know that all office buildings are required to meet the American Society of Heating, Refrigerating and Air-Conditioning Engineers (ASHRE) standards for fresh air and adequate airflow within your office space? But is that enough to keep everyone safe? Many business owners and corporate leaders are seeking to understand the range of options available in the marketplace to ensure the highest levels of employee safety during this time.

The three most common strategies to improve your Indoor Air Quality (IAQ) are ventilation control, filtration, and disinfecting.

Ventilation Control

The strategy behind ventilation control is to dilute the inside (“recycled”) air that is circulating within your office space with more Outdoor Air (OA) by increasing the number of air exchanges per hour. This is done by engineering new OA equipment outside your premises (commonly rooftop units) that deliver into your space or mechanical closet. There are ASHRE minimum requirements for OA that must be implemented in all spaces. In addition, there are many ways to measure air quality standards, such as LEED and WELL, that reflect higher performance specifications than ASHRE.

This is typically seen when upgrading an existing system during an office renovation where there is an increase in the number of employees within the given work area. The initial cost is high (approximately $7,000 per additional ton) and there is a longer lead time (22 to 24 weeks, depending on complexity) for acquiring new equipment and supporting infrastructure. You can expect your ongoing energy bill to increase as the amount of air that is needed to be heated or cooled will also increase.

Filtration

Many individuals are looking to increase their filtration to provide quick, additional protection for their employees right now. The most common form of measurement is the Minimum Efficiency Reporting Value (MERV): the higher the MERV rating, the higher the air filtration capabilities of a filter. Unfortunately, upgrading your standard MERV-8 filter to a MERV-13, at a cost of $100-$300 per filter, will not work for all situations since older equipment often does not support newer filters. As an alternative, one can install higher MERV rated filters with a low-pressure drop and at a premium. For instance, installing HEPA filters (MERV17-20) at a cost of $200-$500 each and can remove 99.97% of biological and inorganic material and are recommended by AHSRE for use in sterile environments as a higher line of defense for viruses.

Disinfecting

Disinfecting is all the rage in office environments right now for stopping the spread of COVID-19 droplets through the air. The two most common solutions are Ultraviolet Germicidal Irradiation (UVGI) and Bipolar Ionization (BPI). A UVGI solution is great for keeping coils clean in your equipment, and the install typically takes a day or two. At a cost of $200 to $300 worth of bulbs every year and an ongoing maintenance expense, UVGI has expenses that other solutions such as BPI may not have. ASHRE endorses UV-C bulbs as a guideline, and the equipment can be custom-tailored to your existing HVAC system.

Bipolar Ionization or Non-thermal Plasma Technology (BPI) is a system that converts oxygen into charged atoms that eliminate mold, bacteria, allergens, and viruses. There are a few different ways to address your space when considering BPI, though it can be installed along with your current HVAC system regardless of equipment type and distribution. We are finding that most applications will likely cost you under $1.00 per square foot of floor area for the installation of this type of system, which may take a couple of days depending on the complexity of the system. Dozens of controlled independent laboratory test results show that this technology can reduce 99.9% Influenza A virus, 99.43% reduction in  Escherichia coli (E. coli), and 98.6% reduction in Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs) in just one hour. On top of all that, it reduces food odors!

It is important to note that different types of buildings have different types of HVAC systems. If your office space is within a single-story building, the HVAC solution might be very different from that of a high-rise building. Furthermore, depending on the type of building and number of companies within the building, a landlord might consider upgrading the entire building system or instead require companies to make their own upgrades at their cost. No matter the scenario, if you are interested in understanding the best solution to upgrade the HVAC system of your company’s office space, please contact our team for a free consultation.

Contact information for team to assist with cleaner air initiatives

Harkins Expands with a New Charlotte Office

Harkins expands to new office in Charlotte

Harkins is pleased to announce the move and expansion of our office in Charlotte, NC. Founded in 1965, Harkins is an employee-owned construction company serving clients engaged in the development of multifamily, commercial, and government projects. We are the leader in the markets we serve, crediting our success to the shared values that guide our work and our relationships.

This move enables our growing team to double our square footage in a prominent historical building in South End Charlotte. In 2017, Harkins expanded our services to Charlotte, NC as part of our plan to bring our Building Exceptional approach to a wider area of the country.

Our new office is in the South End in The Steel Yard and Tompkins Toolworx building. Our new address is 1900 South Boulevard, Suite 105, Charlotte, NC 28203.

Larry Kraemer quote on new Charlotte office expansion

Additionally, Harkins made a strategic approach to develop and invest in a team dedicated to serving the Southeast Region. Please join us in welcoming Josh Zilke to Harkins as a Project Executive. Josh started in June 2020 and has hit the ground running to secure work in the Carolinas.

Project Executive Josh Zilke said, “I am excited about the potential Harkins has in the Southeast Region. I look forward to bringing my passion, opportunities, and relationships to the company, which will be critical to our growth.”   

Josh has a master’s degree from Virginia Tech in Civil Engineering – Infrastructure Development. He also graduated summa cum laude with dual bachelor’s degrees in construction engineering and management as well as civil and structural engineering. He has been published in the Journal of Management in Engineering and is currently pursuing a graduate certificate in Real Estate from UNC Charlotte. In addition, Josh is LEED AP credentialed.

Protecting Workers from High-Heat in Construction

Construction worker monitors team for high-heat exposure

By Corporate Safety Director Bob Walsh

With the summer upon us, we will all experience extreme temperatures, high humidity, and poor air quality at some point. These extreme conditions set the stage for serious medical concerns regarding the safety of the workers on our jobsites. Heat exhaustion and stroke can occur; both major life-threatening conditions.

There are ways you can immediately raise awareness and precautions. Below are some helpful tips for monitoring jobsite safety:

  • Constantly monitor workers for symptoms of heat distress, such as extreme physical weakness, light-headedness, dizziness, headaches, rapid heartbeat, slowed breathing, dry skin, pale skin color, and sunburn.
  • Consider temporarily adjusting the start and end times of construction to correspond with current weather conditions
  • Rent larger space fans for work in confined spaces such as attics or upper floors.
  • Take advantage of available shady areas to perform work in.
  • Allow more frequent rest breaks in shady areas and make drinking water plentifully available to all work areas.

Workers on jobsites should be encouraged to do the following:

  • Wear lightweight, lightly-colored, loose clothing that covers as much of their body as possible.
  • Drink water (or Gatorade) frequently throughout the day, eating lighter meals or snacks. Do not eat or add additional salt to your diet – this can further dehydrate your body!
  • Take breaks offered by supervisors.
  • Encourage workers to report any medical symptoms of distress or illness to their supervisor, immediately. Have the affected worker move to a shady area, cool their body down by wiping their skin with a damp cloth, and give them cold water to sip on. Call an ambulance right away.

Let’s all do our part to stay safe in these high-heat summer months!

Howard County Courthouse Team Cements its Connection to the Community

Clark Construction, Harkins, and trades gather to celebrate topping out of courthouse building

Since the onset of COVID-19, most businesses have been implementing telecommuting and other social distancing protocols, but there are others such as restaurants and entertainment venues that have had to close their doors. Additionally, small independent contractors, cleaning crews, prep cooks, wait staff, merchandise stockers, and ticket takers at event venues are facing a major financial hardship. Established by Edgemoor-Star America Judicial Partners (ESJP) through the Community Foundation of Howard County, the Howard County COVID-19 Relief Fund is a donor-advised charity that will support local non-profit organizations in providing financial relief to those who have been adversely affected by the pandemic.

Quote block Ben Nichols speaks on Howard County COVID-19 fund

Along with Clark Construction Group, Hellmuth Obatz & Kassabaum (HOK), and Johnson Controls, Harkins has partnered with the Howard County Courthouse development team in donating to the growing $38,600 contribution. We couldn’t be prouder of our team’s commitment to improving the lives of those in our community.

Staying Connected in a Changing World

By Project Solutions Manager Ralph Kreider and HR Specialist Bonnie Cronin

An integral component of the Harkins philosophy is People Development. This means we mentor, train, and support our employees so they can become the best they can be. When the global pandemic changed our world, it not only affected where we work but how we work, too. Adapting rapidly to this new environment opened a new door for Harkins to innovate the way in which we offer professional development opportunities for our employees.

Since March 17, 2020, Harkins employees have been participating in virtual training classes and webinars. We knew the use of Microsoft Teams would be vital to helping us maintain business as usual and facilitating meetings, both internally and externally. What we did not anticipate was the momentum this gained and how technology helped fuel our organization to be more human-centric.

The “11 am Series” as it is now known, has given employees across the company a unique opportunity to learn new things and gain deeper insight into other departments and topics. With a robust offering of courses, over 55 classes were taught by a variety of internal and external subject matter experts.

Topics included:

  • Understanding the GMP Process
  • Procore Procedures
  • Scheduling Basics
  • Using Building Information Modeling (BIM)
  • Understanding Harkins Financials
  • Virtual Site Tours by Drone
  • Creating Investment and Emergency Plans
  • LinkedIn 101
  • Innovating in a Time of Crisis

The average class size was between 30 and 40 people. For those unable to join the class, all sessions were recorded and put in our online library so that they can continue to be used for future learning opportunities. While these unprecedented times have created uncertainty in the world around us, Harkins has embraced it as an opportunity to foster growth and connectivity. We welcome new ideas, expertise, and the people who can present them, and continue to prioritize training and development throughout our organization.

President’s Message: Harkins’ Response to COVID-19

COVID-19 particles

To Our Clients and Trade Partners:

I wanted to let you know that we are constantly monitoring developments regarding the COVID-19 pandemic and implementing plans and procedures responsive to the information we are receiving from the CDC, OSHA, federal and local authorities, and our other business partners. The safety of all project participants is of critical importance to us, so we are seeking your cooperation and assistance in mitigating the spread and impact of COVID-19 in our offices, jobsites, and other places where we conduct our business.

We have implemented the following procedures that will be in place for such time as is necessary under the circumstances:

  • CDC and OSHA recommendations for the prevention and spread of COVID-19 will be posted in conspicuous places around our jobsites, and we will be monitoring compliance.
  • All workers are requested to maintain a social distance of six (6) feet whenever reasonably possible.
  • We are cleaning our jobsite trailers daily, arranging for commercial cleaners to clean and disinfect areas of the project as necessary in response to actual or suspected exposure, and supplying our projects with additional hand sanitizers.
  • Any workers who have tested positive for COVID-19 or suspects exposure to COVID-19 should stay home instead of coming to the jobsite. Out of an abundance of caution, any worker who appears sick to our site personnel will be sent home.
  • Meetings with our clients, subcontractors, and other business partners will be conducted online via Microsoft Teams. Those who do not have the Teams application can dial into the call via the number provided on the meeting notice.
  • We are suspending topping out parties, subcontractor lunches, and project-related local community gatherings until further notice.
  • We are monitoring the availability of labor, materials, equipment, and other items that may be impacted by COVID-19, and also impacts from decisions by local authorities to suspend or reduce services that support our projects (inspections, permits, plan reviews, etc.) so that we can keep all project participants updated on any impacts to schedule, resource availability, and costs.
  • We request that our subcontractors, suppliers, and other business partners review and confirm the availability and delivery of materials, equipment, labor and any other items or services for which they are responsible and notify us immediately if any changes should occur.

We will continue to monitor the situation and adapt our policies and procedures as necessary, with the constant goals of keeping people safe and minimizing the impact on our projects. This is a new and uncertain situation for all of us, and your understanding and cooperation with our efforts is sincerely appreciated.

Please do not hesitate to contact me if you have any questions.

Very truly yours,

Gary's signature

The Harkins Header Throughout the Years

Harkins Header newsletter timeline since 1972

As we celebrate our 55th Anniversary, we open the Harkins Header archives to take a walk down memory lane. Did you know that the first issue of the Harkins Header was published in the Fall of 1972? This edition stated that the Header was a way to keep employees and their families informed about all things Harkins; what we are doing as a company, what we plan to do as a company, and who is doing it. Although the Header started out being published quarterly just for employees and their families, it has since shifted to being published three times a year and sent to over 4,000 of our clients, architects, consultants, business friends, and employees.

Over the course of the last 48 years, the magazine has undergone multiple revamps. While mastheads have shrunk and expanded, borders have come and gone, and fonts have changed, our iconic red color has been untouched. One of the most notable changes throughout the years has been the cover. Starting out being text-heavy and including hand-drawn graphics, our covers advanced within the first five years of production to feature black and white pictures. The cutting-edge publication then advanced to full-color printing and production in the summer of 2000. While the face of the magazine has evolved in response to trends in graphic design, the purpose has always been the same – to communicate the health of our business, promote our culture, feature our people and projects, and provide the thoughts of our leaders to our clients, architects, and employees. Additionally, it has served as a dynamic marketing piece for the company.

We would like to thank all our readers for supporting our endeavors along the way.

Harkins Header newsletter timeline since 1972

Paca House Celebrates Ribbon Cutting

Group cuts ribbon on affordable housing project in Baltimore
Baltimore, MD

The Harkins team attended the ribbon cutting of the Paca House Renovation and Addition on Monday, March 9th in Baltimore, MD.

Originally an adaptive reuse of an old firehouse and contiguous building in 1996, the Paca House apartments offer 92 units of permanent housing and support services to low-income individuals that are Veterans or chronically homeless Baltimore City residents. The project included the construction of four efficiency and 12 one-bedroom apartments into a new West Wing over a podium along the rear property line. The five-story addition was previously a vacant strip of surplus land along the northern property line (North Wing) that expanded the footprint of the existing five-story building, allowing for the replacement of apartment units made up of 41 efficiencies, 41 one-bedroom units, and 10 market rate apartments. Apartments feature wood plank flooring, upgraded appliances, new kitchen cabinets, and ample closet space.

Amenity spaces include an outdoor courtyard, a community room with a kitchenette, resource rooms for on-site resident services, a large lobby area, on-site laundry, bike storage, and free Wi-Fi in the building’s common areas. On-site resident services include case management, counseling, and referrals to the local Veterans Affairs Medical Center.

Ribbon Cutting Photos

Local Media Coverage

Monument East Celebrates Ribbon Cutting

Harkins group photo in front of building sign for ribbon cutting event
Baltimore, MD

The Harkins team attended the ribbon cutting ceremony at Monument East apartments on Monday, March 2nd in Baltimore, MD. Located in the Oldtown neighborhood, this 19-story mixed population development houses mostly seniors with over 170 units available to residents.

The project scope included restoring the current brick, replacing windows and balcony doors, new roof coating, interior finishes, upgraded plumbing fixtures, and new mechanical and electrical systems. In addition, accessible units and common areas were reconfigured to meet the Uniform Federal Accessibility Standards. Common areas located on the first and 19th floors were renovated. Both include ample seating, TVs, a kitchenette, and decorative murals painted by local artist Michael Owen. In addition to these features, the 19th-floor common space includes a pool table and chess tables for residents to enjoy throughout their day.

During the ceremony, Harkins recognized a particular resident for his positive attitude, assistance in communicating changes, and relaying any feedback to Harkins so adjustments could be made during construction to accommodate the needs of each resident. Harkins Lead Superintendent Brent Tracey presented Harry Brown with a Harkins branded vest and plaque to thank him for his help throughout the project.

Monument East is a result of HUD’s Rental Assistance Demonstration Program (RAD). RAD was established in 2011 to preserve and improve the country’s affordable rental housing capacity by allowing public housing agencies (PHAs) and owners of HUB-assisted properties to convert units to project-based Section 8 programs. In doing this, it allows an opportunity for private developers to invest in properties that are at risk of being removed from the nation’s affordable housing inventory. This was Harkins’ first project with owner The Community Builders.

Ribbon Cutting Photos

An Interactive Experience on Our Jobsites

Employee pointing at digital plan table

Over the last few years, advancements in technology have changed many aspects of the way we manage the construction of our projects. Our site teams are relying less on the physical paper plans and more on documents being stored digitally. To support the effort, Harkins’ project controls team has been deploying new technology solutions to take our projects digital. One example of this includes installing digital plan tables on our jobsites, an effort started by Harkins Project Engineer II Austin Achenbach.

These models convert a standard 55” 4k television into a touchscreen with an intuitive 10-point multi-touch display and offers full compatibility with planning and review software such as Procore, Adobe, and Bluebeam. The touchscreen makes it simple to flip through pages, zoom in to specific areas, and make notes where needed.

The plan table can be built for less than $1,000 using the following parts:

  • 55” 4K television
  • Mobile touchscreen cart
  • Infrared touch frame
  • Repurposed laptop
  • Plexiglass sheet
  • Wireless keyboard/touchpad
  • Miscellaneous tape, Velcro, cables and cable ties

When used with the Windows Procore App, all project plans can be viewed, marked up, and shared with other Procore users without the need to reprint or transport paper plans. This has been the biggest advantage this advance has afforded to our teams. The ability to keep the as-built and redline information live on Procore has eliminated the need to duplicate that information on paper plans and reduced the chances of items being missed.

While many people will always prefer to flip through a multitude of pages while digging into a set of paper plans, it’s hard to deny the convenience and accessibility of the digital plan table and its role in getting us closer to a paperless workplace. Assembling a plan table takes only a few hours and the feedback received has been overwhelmingly positive. Here’s a time-lapse installation of a plan table, completed by our very own Network Manager Chris Thomas.