Karl Heitman

Karl Heitman, founder and president of Chicago-based Heitman Architects, has spent a lot of time in recent weeks contacting businesses with industrial facilities to see how they are faring with the coronavirus crisis. “I started calling all of my clients in the industrial area and started asking them what they are doing and how we can help them,” Heitman says.

He says there are many industrial buildings that can be converted to production of critical medical products.

Heitman’s firm was the architect for a new speculative, last-mile distribution center in Tampa for Keating Resources. The project is nearing completion. Heitman suggests that the building could be converted to distribution of medical equipment and supplies during the coronavirus crisis.

Heitman says one of his clients in Illinois that makes food and pharmaceutical ingredients has been able to divert their manufacturing to small batch liquid production for hand sanitizer and is providing to first responders. Another client has converted production to masks.

Heitman says his firm’s employees are all working remotely. In some cases, this is actually accelerating their work in the design phase because everyone’s attention is now internal, he says.

“In terms of construction, most projects have been moving forward, but some sites are being shut down because of the unavailability of materials at their sites,” he says. “Construction of distribution centers has been exempt because that’s considered an essential business, but companies supplying materials to sites are shutting down.”

During this era of working remotely, Heitman says many municipalities are accepting video inspections of some buildings in order to allow business to continue as normal as possible.

“Ingenuity is allowing that, but as we get deeper into this quarantine situation, the supply chain is getting cut off as far as getting materials to construction sites.”

Heitman says the trend in recent years has been toward flexibility in construction of industrial buildings.

“Our manufacturing clients may put a production line in and produce a certain product, but those lines are flexible. If you are in liquid production, you are not going to be making ventilators, but companies in the metal industry can certainly divert their production to make boxes, or cases for ventilators.”