Perkins+Will's David Collins, Tom Reisenbichler, Courtney Johnston, Omar Cantu, and Ron Stelmarski.

Commercial Real Estate

Old Dallas High School Project Has Sustainability As a Top Priority

Architecture firm Perkins + Will set out to achieve three third-party rating certifications to measure the space’s sustainability and overall employee wellness.

The Dallas office of architectural firm Perkins + Will is speeding ahead with plans to redesign its future home at the historic downtown Dallas High School. The Chicago-based firm is working with the developer, Matthews Southwest, and the project’s core architect, Merriman Anderson/Architects Inc., to complete the company’s space on the third floor and partial space on the second floor. The building totals 100,000 square feet, including more than 80,000 square feet of office space. Perkins + Will is the lead tenant, leasing 39,579 square feet—or nearly half—of the office space.

One goal for the firm’s new Dallas location was to make it a “living laboratory,” a place where it can show clients some of the aspects the firm will include in the clients’ projects. The firm will be applying to three separate third-party sustainability rating systems: LEED CI, WELL Building Standard, and Fitwel. “It’s one thing for people to say, ‘Our office is green;’ it’s another for an office to say, ‘Our office is green and someone else has actually checked it and proved that it is,’” said Garrett Ferguson, sustainable building advisor at Perkins + Will.

The firm will target LEED Platinum certification, Ferguson said, the highest rating on that system. LEED takes a comprehensive look at everything—from energy efficiency to a little bit on wellness to the kind of materials that are going into the space. Ferguson said fewer than 20 buildings in the U.S. have earned WELL certification so far, and Fitwel certification is even newer.

For the WELL certification, the company will be targeting the gold level, the second of three tiers available. “It takes a really big focus on what kind of foods are being presented to the employees,” Ferguson said. “So WELL does a much deeper dive into wellness and occupant health—everything from what we’re eating to the air quality to water quality.” The company found it would be hard to reach the third tier without having an onsite cafeteria, a factor in its decision to “go for the gold” rather than the top tier.

The third certification, Fitwel, is a certification Perkins + Will has decided to go for on each of its projects moving forward. Explained Ferguson: “That one focuses on active working, making sure that there’s lots of known things in the area that are walk-able distance, to having onsite exercise areas, relaxation rooms, and things like that.”

During a tour of the firm’s space this week, guests were treated to a “grand finale” of viewing the project via a virtual reality headset. The design will see the school’s former auditorium space turned into an open lobby area, with plenty of seating to accommodate collaborative work, continuing education lectures, and large events and banquets. Along with private work space, guests could visit the kitchen area and model room to get a sense of the space. Perkins + Will has been presenting to clients for almost two years with VR technology, a tool that helps the company get to the right solution faster.

The architecture firm’s current Dallas offices are near the intersection of U.S. 75 and Walnut Hill Lane and, overall, employees think the move to the CBD is a positive one, the company says. “We were all so excited about finding a place that, No. 1, connected us back to downtown as well as gave us some identity,” said Ron Stelmarski, the Perkins + Will design director. “We think the city is important, we think being downtown is important, and renovating a building like this … there’s very few of these out there.”

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