October 2020 - Sachse Construction

This is What the New Burger King and Popeyes Drive-Thrus Will Look Like

New York (CNN Business) Burger King, Popeyes, and Tim Hortons are getting new drive-thrus to boost sales in the coronavirus age.

Restaurant Brands International, which owns the three brands, said Tuesday that it is planning to modernize and speed up the drive-thru experience at over 10,000 restaurants in North America by the middle of 2022.


That includes the installation of over 40,000 digital menu screens or four per drive-thru lane. The screens offer contactless payment methods to speed up cars’ progression through the drive-thru, integrate loyalty programs to show customers items based on their rewards redemption history, and use predictive selling technology that suggest products based on weather, time of day and trending items. The screens also have improved tech that should help prevent outages.


Drive-thrus have become increasingly important to restaurant chains during the pandemic when dining rooms have closed or are operating at reduced capacity because of restrictions and more customers are ordering delivery or taking meals to-go.

The new digital screens “will meaningfully enhance our drive-thru experience at a critical time and solidify a key point of differentiation for our brands,” said Matthew Dunnigan, the company’s chief financial officer, during a Tuesday call discussing the financial results.


Burger King and Tim Hortons could especially use a sales boost: Both brands have been struggling during the crisis.


In the three months that ended on September 30, sales at Burger King restaurants open at least a year fell 7%. At Tim Hortons, which has been hit by the sudden lack of a morning commute as many people work from home, sales at restaurants open at least a year dropped 12.5% for the quarter. Tim Hortons is trying to drive sales in the afternoon to improve the situation.


And rising Covid-19 cases in North America mean that unexpected dining-room closures aren’t over. In early October, Tim Hortons restaurants in Ontario had to temporarily close dining rooms because of restrictions, CEO Jose Cil mentioned during Tuesday’s call, making the environment in Canada “challenging.”Cases are rising in the United States, as well.


Popeyes, on the other hand, has been doing well: Comparable sales grew 17.4% in the third quarter, thanks in large part to the success of the brand’s popular chicken sandwich.


Total revenue fell about 8% to $1.3 billion in the third quarter.


Many chains were bolstering their drive-thru infrastructure even before the pandemic.


Burger King has been working on new restaurant designs for a few years. Last month, the chain unveiled two new restaurant designs with features like triple drive-thrus, burger pickup lockers and smaller dining rooms.


And last year, McDonald’s acquired Dynamic Yield, an AI company, to help it design smart digital menu boards to help increase sales, and rolled the tech out throughout its drive-thrus.


Restaurant Brands (QSR) has already started rolling out the new screens at roughly 1,500 US Burger King locations and 800 Tim Hortons locations in the United States and Canada.


In those locations, the new screens have contributed to higher overall sales and more spending per order, said Kobza, noting that “it’s still early days.”


It plans to start adding the screens to Popeyes locations later this year.


K-12 Sector Adjusting to ‘New Priorities’

K-12 schools in Mississippi began reopening in late July. By August 13, 39 counties—half of that state’s total—had schools reporting positive coronavirus cases that included 109 teachers and 69 students. More than 250 teachers and staff and 489 students were quarantined. On August 17, Gov. Tate Reeves announced COVID-19 testing for all teachers and emergency telehealth coverage for schools.

Also being tested, in Mississippi and elsewhere across the nation, are the decisions that school districts made about social distancing, sanitization, and online learning to present environments where students and teachers can feel safe.

“Right now, we’re holding our breath, to some degree,” says Dan Davis, Senior Vice President with CG Schmidt, the Milwaukee, Wis.-based construction company. “This pandemic really showed us how ill-prepared we were to face this kind of situation. Unfortunately, we don’t think anyone can really say with confidence that they have a good picture of the long-term effects of the pandemic on the market.”

The K-12 sector has been somewhat less affected by the virus in terms of project delays or postponements, say AEC sources. What’s different, however, is “that everything is constantly changing,” says Steve Hulsey, President of Corgan. “The urgency of the pandemic highlighted the need for schools to consider gaps in agility, and opportunities to improve response procedures.”

Hulsey, echoing other AEC execs, adds that COVID-19 “has reinforced the fundamental need for human interaction, collaboration, and the learning that happens through in-person experiences and groups.” Jim French, FAIA, Senior Principal and Global K-12 Education Practice Leader for DLR Group, believes the pandemic can be a “catalyst for positive change” that leads to showing that “learning can happen anywhere.”


There were some immediate changes that schools made in order to reopen for the fall semester. These included HVAC upgrades, installing indirect UV lighting, and modifying classrooms, says Susan Tully, LEED AP BD+C, Senior Project Manager at Gilbane Building Company. Learning spaces are flexible and adaptable. Some schools also focused on expanding their health and wellness suites.

“Our clients’ priorities are changing,” says Gil Fullen, Vice President of Business Development for Balfour Beatty’s California buildings team. School districts there are deferring projects like sports fields and asking instead for new infrastructure and modernization that support distance learning.

Huckabee, which specializes in education design, this summer was in the middle of bond planning for two high schools in the Wichita Falls, Texas, Independent School District. “The community has been very forward-thinking in their design response, as they build on an existing platform of distance learning,” says Konrad Judd, AIA, LEED AP, RID, the firm’s Chief Design Officer. He elaborates that a hybrid model of instruction will require fewer classrooms and more common and collaborative spaces, with an emphasis on adaptability. “The design is less about a direct response to COVID-19 and more about a solution that supports long-term instructional and safety needs,” says Judd.

Corgan’s Hulsey adds that K-12 security concerns are now more “layered” and consider threats such as infectious diseases.


AEC sources agree that technology in the form of enhanced IT and mechanical systems is now central to any school improvement or new construction. “Features that are ‘luxury’ now—like touchless faucets and toilet systems—will become a minimum standard for school facilities,” says Jake Nabholz, President of contractor Nabholz.

Fullen of Balfour Beatty says his firm has been using virtual and augmented reality and BIM tools to keep its K-12 jobsites safe and to share information with clients. Corgan’s Hulsey sees VR and AR technologies opening shared learning vistas for students and teachers.

With the pandemic still lurking, the longer-term design and construction objectives of some K-12 school districts are shifting toward their facilities serving the greater community, say AEC sources. “The actual school facilities are now, more than previously, understood to be a place of shelter, service, and a public resource,” says Gilbane’s Tully.

DLR Group’s Principal Todd Ferking blogged recently about a “community-based learning model” that allows students to take greater advantage of public spaces, like libraries and fitness centers, as a means toward reducing the buildings inventory that school districts have to operate and maintain.

Integrating schools with their communities is a smart tactic when getting voters to approve funding for school construction and renovation has gotten harder. “If the economy worsens, voters may reject significant bond referendums that they would traditionally support,” cautions DLR Group’s French.

GC Schmidt’s Davis predicts that school boards will be hesitant to pursue mega referendums during the recession. “We aren’t going to see a lot of $100 million new high schools or athletic or performing arts centers until we have a better understanding as to the endgame for the virus.” Over the next 12 to 18 months, Davis believes that schools are more likely to take a “two-stage” approach that focuses first on disease control within their existing operating and maintenance budgets, and second on using new funding to upgrade HVAC and MEP systems. He adds that more districts are availing themselves of federal grants to purchase advanced technologies like modular ionization bars.

Huckabee’s Chief Operations Officer Tom Lueck projects a 25-30% drop in the education market this year. He says that many Texas school districts delayed their bonds by six to 12 months or more. “Without bond elections, school districts don’t have the capital for major construction projects.” Consequently, Huckabee’s focus, until there’s an economic rebound, “is helping clients realize their potential in existing spaces,” he says.

Ken Hutchens, VLK Architects’ Principal and Chief Creative Officer, corroborates Lueck’s comments about bond election postponements in Texas. He also notes that many school districts accelerated projects to take advantage of lower construction costs. “Therefore, architecture firms are burning through backlogged work, with minimal work in the pipeline for 2021.”

Still, Hutchens is cautiously optimistic about VLK’s K-12 prospects, even while anticipating that bond referendums are likely to be more conservative. He notes that in some urban areas in Texas, single-family homebuilding is “brisk,” which ultimately could create the need for new school facilities.

Gilbane’s Tully observes, parenthetically, that more school districts are looking for alternate funding, such as public-private partnerships. And Nabholz has seen some districts favor energy performance contracts that potentially generate operational savings.

Nabholz notes, however, that the coronavirus, scarcer financing, and a recession aren’t the only factors holding back K-12 school construction and renovation. The U.S. birth rate increased by 0.09% in 2019, after falling four consecutive years to its lowest level in more than three decades. “Class sizes have peaked and are trending downward,” Nabholz observes. “This, more than the pandemic, will affect the future of K-12 education building.”

Marriott Pitches Hotels to Remote Workers Fleeing Stress at Home

(Bloomberg)—Hotel companies are going to new lengths to get guests through the doors in a bid to salvage a historically bad year for the industry.

More than 2,000 hotels in the Marriott International Inc. system will begin allowing guests to check in at 6 a.m. and stay as late as 6 p.m. the next day, a promotion aimed at remote workers looking for a change of scenery from their homes.

Other Marriott hotels are trying out similar initiatives, including one that offers discounted rates to guests who want a room for the day but not the night. Another program pitches resorts as places where parents can work while hotel staff supervise activities for their kids.

“People are tired of being at home,” said Peggy Fang Roe, global officer for customer experience at Marriott, the world’s largest hotel company. “They want the ability to be in different spaces, and they also want to stay safe. Working out of a guest room is the best of both worlds.”

At the tail end of the most dismal year in the history of the modern hotel industry, there’s little downside to trying. Across the country, revenue per available room, a measure of occupancy and pricing, was down 47% in September from the year before, according to lodging-data provider STR. Results were even worse in the largest U.S. markets, giving owners and operators reason to get creative.

Makeshift Offices

Hilton Worldwide Holdings Inc. and Hyatt Hotels Corp. also have tried marketing rooms as makeshift offices. As far back as March, when the Covid-19 pandemic ground U.S. travel to a halt, hotels have looked for new sources of business, offering cheap lodgings to medical personnel and first responders, or turning rooms into temporary college dorms.

Marriott says surveys have shown that office workers see hotel rooms as a way to ease the stresses and distractions of working from home, and that some of its corporate clients are studying the possibility of offering rooms to employees.

Quantifying demand for these kinds of efforts is difficult, but lodging industry consultant Bjorn Hanson said his research shows that hotels in big markets are finding some takers, at least for day rates. Beyond room rentals themselves, the initiatives may help hotel companies deepen customer relationships with corporate accounts, he said.

“It lets them say, ‘Look how good we’ve been as a partner during a difficult time,’” Hanson said.

Why Dunkin’ Is Worth Nearly $9 Billion

DealBook’s Lauren Hirsch broke the news yesterday: Dunkin’ Brands is close to a $8.8 billion deal to sell itself to Inspire Brands, the restaurant operator backed by the investment firm Roark Capital. A deal could be announced as soon as today, sources say. Here’s everything you need to know about the scoop (or SC🍩🍩P, if you will).

Dunkin’ has done well during a pandemic. The chain was investing in its digital business before the coronavirus outbreak, helping it offer contact-free takeout. Shifting work patterns mean more people are coming in later in the day, boosting premium products like espresso and specialty beverages, which diners may have bought from smaller, independent coffee shops before. (Drinks make up more than half of Dunkin’s revenue, and it dropped “Donut” from its name last year.)

  • Bankers have long considered the company, whose 21,000 Dunkin’ and Baskin Robbins outlets are all franchised, a takeover target. Some saw a potential buyer in JAB, the European investment firm that owns Krispy Kreme, Panera and a host of coffee chains.

  • Dunkin’s C.E.O., Dave Hoffman, stands to make $10.8 million if there is a change in control this year, $1 million more than last year, according to filings. Pent-up demand for deals led to a big jump in M.&A. transactions in the third quarter, and a Dunkin’ takeover could inspire other private equity firms to jump into the fray for pandemic-proof targets.

It would be a jewel in Inspire Brands’ portfolio. The Roark-backed conglomerate has been on a buying spree in recent years, acquiring chains like Arby’s, Buffalo Wild Wings and Jimmy Johns. Inspire’s strategy is to improve companies’ digital operations while keeping their brands separate. (Its C.E.O., Paul Brown, has said he wants to organize the company like Hilton Hotels, where he once worked.) Owning a dominant chain like Dunkin’ could be the final touch Inspire needs before going public, as some expect — though Inspire has never confirmed such plans.

  • Dunkin’ has been private before. It was owned by a consortium of private equity firms, led by Bain Capital, Carlyle Group and Thomas H. Lee Partners, who acquired it from Pernod Ricard in a $2.4 billion deal in 2005. The firms took it public six years later.

The deal isn’t cheap, with Inspire offering a roughly 20 percent premium to Dunkin’s closing price on Friday, which was already near an all-time high. The availability of cheap debt and steady cash flow from the company’s franchises should make it easy to finance, Lauren hears.

New Guidelines for Replacing Windows Without Removing Exterior Brick Veneer

The Fenestration Manufacturers Association (FMA), the Fenestration and Glazing Industry Alliance (FGIA), and the Window & Door Manufacturers Association (WDMA) have released a new document focused on replacement windows.

FMA/AAMA/WDMA 2710-20, Guidelines for the Full Frame Replacement of Windows without Removal of Exterior Brick Veneer covers windows replacement in residential and light commercial buildings of not more than three stories above grade. It pertains to structures using a membrane/drainage system, a surface barrier drainage, or a wall system without a reliable membrane drainage system.

The document is focused on the full-frame replacement without removal of external brick veneer. It describes methods where the cavity between the wall and façade needs to be blocked and sealed.

“This new document is the first installation practice to address this window-wall condition, which also includes a ‘decision-tree’ matrix to guide installers to the most appropriate methods,” said Jim Katsaros (DuPont Performance Building Solutions), co-chair of the Joint Replacement Window Task Group. “The task group evaluated numerous configuration variations and completed representative installations with comprehensive field testing in actual homes in Baton Rouge, Louisiana.”

Big Box Bust: What Does the Future Hold for NYC’s Empty Department Stores?

As COVID-19 accelerates the decline of department stores and traditional apparel brands, some New York City landlords and brokers are facing the question of what to do with the cavernous, mostly windowless blocks of space that were once major shopping hubs.

That includes in Midtown South, where big, boxy stalwarts like the old Lord & Taylor flagship and the JCPenney at Manhattan Mall are on their way to second acts. 

Those second acts won’t necessarily include retail, either. There are many options for re-adapting these stores, some spurred by the pandemic and others by the habits of New Yorkers, market watchers say. 

After filing for bankruptcy, JCPenney decided in July to close its basement store in Vornado Realty Trust’s Manhattan Mall on West 33rd Street, which was formerly the Gimbels department store flagship. JCPenney opened the store in 2009 in an effort to compete with Macy’s Herald Square flagship nearby. But the dark, subterranean store never had the selection or the charm of Macy’s landmarked outpost at the high-profile corner of West 34th Street and Broadway.

The Texas-based, JCPenney department store chain occupied 150,000 square feet of underground, windowless real estate. Vornado has to decide how to price the space — which will rent for significantly less than a ground-floor store on 33rd or 34th streets — and what kind of tenants would want it.

“You’ll never see a big-box space priced like a 2,000- to 3,000-square-foot, ground-level space across the street,” CBRE retail broker Michael Kadosh said. “I’m not putting an $800 [per-square-foot] price tag into a Manhattan Mall JCPenney of that size.”

It could be converted to office space, either for medical tenants or a large institutional user, such as the Department of Motor Vehicles. Concierge medical services and walk-in clinics have been expanding throughout the city during the pandemic, as they offer a new service that most New Yorkers can’t live without: COVID-19 testing.

“We’re marketing two big retail spaces on the Upper East and Upper West Sides, and many of the bidders are medical,” Patrick Smith, a retail broker at JLL, said. Smith pointed out that Vornado could end up demolishing Manhattan Mall entirely if the developer moves forward with its proposal to build a 2.8 million-square-foot office tower on the site of the adjacent Hotel Pennsylvania.

Macy’s too has floated plans for a major adaptive reuse project of its flagship store, which would involve constructing a 1.5 million-square-foot office tower atop its block-long building on Herald Square. 

The former JCPenney space could also become a Whole Foods or a food hall. Vornado already shuttered the Pennsy Food Hall down the block earlier this year as it started to renovate 2 Penn Plaza.

There’s also the possibility that another large retailer could take it over. A handful of companies have done brisk online business, because they sell items Americans have needed in quarantine, like furniture, electronics or outdoor gear. So, it could become a Herald Square location for REI, Best Buy or Ikea.

Plus, many national retailers have started doing e-commerce distribution out of their stores, especially in major metropolitan areas like New York. A larger footprint at a somewhat affordable rent allows retailers to cut their costs by delivering locally within the five boroughs, Kadosh said, rather than paying for warehouse space in New Jersey and last-mile delivery service.

Even fitness tenants are on the hunt for new locations. Although it’s hard now to imagine gyms and boutique class providers reopening at full capacity, some companies are thinking a year or two ahead.

“This is an opportunistic time,” Kadosh said. “With the time it takes to actually transact and build, that’s a 12- to 18-month process. You can’t just wait until [COVID-19] is behind us. You want to be ready, and you want to do as much as you can as long as there’s a pause. Think about if we have a vaccine in the spring. It may take some time for people to feel comfortable going back to in-person classes.”

What about in-person office work?

The most notable department store revamp in, not only Midtown South, but the entire city is Amazon’s plan for the old Lord & Taylor flagship at 424-434 Fifth Avenue. The store shuttered in early 2019, and embattled coworking provider WeWork purchased it and its building for $850 million with plans to turn it into a flex space hub.

Those plans, ultimately, fell through; then Amazon swooped in with a $978 million purchase. The e-commerce company announced in August that it planned to eventually house some 2,000 employees at the building.

Looking to elsewhere

The decline of retail giants in other parts of the city offers examples for what might happen in Midtown South.

Longtime New York City department store Century 21 will permanently shutter all 13 of its locations at the end of November, after filing for bankruptcy last month. These include the discount chain’s 220,000-square-foot, seven-story flagship at 22 Cortlandt Street in the Financial District, as well as outposts in Bay Ridge, Downtown Brooklyn and the Upper West Side.

The upper floors of its Financial District space may be challenging to lease, but they could attract medical and institutional tenants looking for deals, or even another big-box retailer.

“Those spaces can be broken up,” Karen Bellantoni, a retail broker at Newmark Knight Frank, said. “It could become a branch of NYU Langone [Health], a Northwell [Health], maybe a charter school. There’s guys like Target that could come in and take these spaces.”

High-end retailers have been vacating big blocks of space, too. Over the summer, Neiman Marcus announced that it would permanently shutter its newly constructed store in the Shops at Hudson Yards. It signed a 50-year lease for the 188,000-square-foot space back in 2014 and will close its doors for good in November after less than two years in business.

Hudson Yards developer Related Companies has begun marketing the department store as part of a 350,000-square-foot “campus for innovation” for office tenants. Facebook is reportedly eyeing it as an addition to its 1.5 million-square-foot office in Hudson Yards, which is currently under construction.

In general, the city’s falling retail rents and proliferating vacant storefronts create opportunities for brands that didn’t have a brick-and-mortar presence here pre-pandemic. That includes established retailers who may want to open their first New York City store and direct-to-consumer brands looking to jump to traditional stores.

“We did a portfolio review of a large, top 25 retailer this week, who said, ‘We think there’s opportunity in New York City; we’ve always been afraid [before],’” said Smith of JLL. “And the e-commerce brands are acknowledging that they need physical stores.”

Self-Storage Sector Holds Up Amid the Pandemic

A confluence of factors conspired to drive down rents at self-storage properties earlier in the year, but now with new demand generated by the broader disruptions caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, the sector’s fortunes have stabilized.

Though the majority of properties were still close to fully occupied, over-eager developers had squeezed too many new projects into growing cities like Phoenix and Orlando, Fla., which put some downward pressure on rents. Then the initial chaos caused by the pandemic rents down further.

Since then, the pandemic has frightened at least a few developers into delaying self-storage developments—or scrapping planned projects entirely. That has reduced the competition. In addition, after the lockdowns were lifted, pent-up demand helped fill empty units.

“This has probably been our best-case scenario for storage, considering the possibilities we considered in the spring of this year,” says Nick Walker, executive vice president of capital markets, self storage, for CBRE, working in the firm’s Los Angeles office.

At the end of the second quarter 2020, 92.2 percent of self-storage space was occupied across the U.S., according to data from Marcus & Millichap. That’s a few percentage points higher than what is typical for the sector. “Now we are beginning to see people push rents,” Walker says.

The occupancy rate is even higher than that in the most competitive markets.

“We are now seeing markets well above that, especially growth markets like Houston and Seattle,” says Steven Weinstock, first vice president and national director of the national land group and national self-storage group in Marcus & Millichap’s Chicago Oak Brook office.

That high demand has stabilized rents that initially fell sharply in the first months of the pandemic. “Street rate performance across the nation continued to improve in August, with more markets seeing positive growth,” says Doug Ressler, manager of business intelligence for Yardi Matrix, based in Phoenix.

National street rates for 10-by-10-foot, climate-controlled units increased 0.8 percent for climate-controlled units in August compared to the month before, according to Yardi. Rents increased in all the markets tracked by Yardi except for Portland, Ore., and Pittsburgh, Penn. Rents grew even more for non-climate controlled units, by 0.9 percent on average nationwide, growing in every individual market tracked by Yardi.

On an annual basis, rents were down 3.0 percent in August 2020, compared to the year before, according to Yardi Matrix. Rates for non-climate-controlled units fell 0.9 percent.

“For the most part, projects are not having trouble from lack of demand for the space,” says Ryan Clark, director of investment sales for Skyview Avisors. “The largest question on our mind is whether the fall and anticipated winter Covid-19 resurgence will stifle and ultimately derail the economic recovery.”

That’s also an improvement from the first months of the pandemic. Rents were down 6.0 percent in April 2020 compared the year before—the steepest drop in rents for three years, according to Yardi. Properties struggling to lease up cut their rents even more steeply to fill space. Leading operators reported that rates for new leases as much as 15 percent or 20 percent lower than the year before.

What’s driving demand in the pandemic

The economic and societal disruptions of the coronavirus have ultimately created new customers for self-storage properties.

As colleges closed their campuses in the spring, students packed up their dorm rooms and put items into storage. People working from home emptied out spare rooms to create home offices and also put items into storage. Self-storage properties also rented space to households that moved from expensive downtowns to more affordable suburbs and smaller cities. And as millions of people lost jobs and moved in with friends and family, many rented out storage space for possessions they no longer had room for.

“Storage typically relies on the three D’s: displacement, downsizing and death,” says Steve Mellon, managing director in the Houston office of JLL Capital Markets. The crisis caused by the pandemic has created all three.

New development slows

The extra demand has come just in time for some developers who opened new properties too close to other new and existing properties. Many of these properties struggled to lease space in the first months of the pandemic.

“Over the last couple of years, development of self-storage properties was at a historic high,” says Weinstock.

In the shock of the pandemic, rents dropped. “Many of these new projects are not able to achieve the rent anticipated by their investors, leading to lower returns and in some cases broken deals,” says Clark.

In some cases, developers have also turned away from projects that had not yet broken ground. The number of abandoned pipeline projects increased to 33 in August, according to Yardi.

“After COVID-19 emerged, many projects have been scrapped, stalled, or delayed,” says JLL’s Mellon. “The pipeline has been reduced quickly.”

Self-storage properties under construction or in the planning stages nationwide account for 8.8 percent of existing inventory, according to Yardi. That’s less than the pipeline of projects at the start of the year.

“This may be a welcome relief for many in the storage sector, especially in markets that have been hit heavily with new supply in recent years,” says Ressler.

However, in the most overbuilt neighborhoods of the most overbuilt cities, new properties will continue to stress the market as they compete to lease up.

“Markets such as Minneapolis and Nashville have experienced rental rate pressure resulting from a significant amount of new deliveries,” says Skyview’s Clark. “Markets such as these will continue to face rate pressure as additional new deliveries open and exert downward pressure on rental rates.”

Envisioning Libraries as Community Hubs


Libraries always have been asked to do a great deal to serve the public and a wide variety of people—from balancing traditional print media with high-tech services, to serving as a quiet oasis, or offering welcoming space as a bustling social hub. They have always adapted quickly to changing needs, and now with the COVID-19 crisis, they are adapting even more quickly to meet new patron expectations. In a post-quarantine world, these expectations will only continue to grow.


In recent months there’s been an increase in virtual programming, such as virtual story times and virtual book clubs. There’s a new comfort level in going online for discussions and meetings. Virtual programming will continue to be a great way to reach people who are unable to get to the library or choose to participate remotely to stay connected. It strengthens the sense of community if you can stay connected.


Libraries won’t eliminate current services—instead, they will continue to evolve their services and strengthen their role in community. The library has become an essential service. Even before the pandemic, libraries have provided many resources and services which previous providers had eliminated. The headlines focus on modern libraries as social spaces, with coffee shops and large, flexible meeting rooms, gaming for teens, maker spaces—which are all important assets and central to building community and providing educational opportunities for everyone.

But libraries also provide a crucial space for the people who need help with various tasks, from filing out an online job application, meeting with social workers or healthcare providers, or tutoring. There should be no barriers at the library.  It’s a place where age, ethnicity, education, social status, and ability doesn’t matter. The library is a neutral place—everyone is welcome  and has access to the resources.

Libraries also are helping with food pickups, where people can stop by and pick up a lunch or a meal. I know of one urban librarian who called several elderly patrons who are her usual patrons to check on them during this pandemic. Another library is setting up limited-use computers in their meeting rooms so people can access computers while the main building is still closed. Libraries are central to meeting the diverse and ever-changing needs of their patrons.


I recently went on a site visit to a library that was preparing to reopen. They were adding signage, removing chairs, increasing cleaning procedures, closing off the children’s literacy area—and had learned that “saran wrap” is a cost-effective way to protect computer keyboards because it doesn’t impair use and is disposable after each use.

Research continues around how long the virus lasts on paper and plastics, so libraries are quarantining their materials for three to seven days, which then takes longer for materials to recirculate to others. There’s also discussion about future access to magazines—because as much as print magazine are diminishing, some people still love to sit in a reading room in the sun with their magazine.

Libraries also are considering evolving staffing roles. If curbside pick-up becomes more of an option, more staff may be needed to be fulfill curbside orders. Some libraries are discussing the staffing implications of adding a pick up window; however, if a window is there, patrons will expect someone will be there to help, just like at Walgreens. In our work, we always try to balance how we can achieve the patrons’ service requests with the least impact to the library’s staffing limitations. There’s always a way if you take time to understand the real need.


My approach is through universally inclusive design. This allows, in many ways, to meet the wide variety of needs for an even wider cross section of the population. Buildings need to be designed to be as accessible and intuitive as possible. Signage is not wayfinding. One sign always leads to another. If the building is intuitive, the building will be easy to navigate and will empower users. Intuitive design allows people to experience the space on their own terms: “There’s where I can get help. There’s where I’ll find the computers. There’s a quiet place. ” Visitors feel, “I’m empowered to explore here—I get it.”


Over the last 10 years we have seen an increase in partnerships between libraries and other organizations that serve communities. Prior to the pandemic, we saw many libraries partnering with housing projects, recreation centers, or office buildings. Recently, we are seeing new partnerships with healthcare services, workforce development centers, licensing centers. Some libraries have been collaborating with community gardens, which supports educational programs around healthy eating and healthy lifestyles.

Libraries are so much more than the book. Each community provides services around what specifically is best for them today, and the buildings need to be flexible to accommodate new programs in the future. We often create facility master plans with library systems, looking at how to deliver library services on a system-wide basis and how to define each library as a destination unique to each neighborhood and location. It doesn’t have to be a one-size-fits-all solution. No two libraries are the same because no two communities are the same.


This pandemic is an “extreme”—we learn from the extreme—but we don’t limit design to these times; we learn from them. Our world will continue to change quickly, and we will need to observe and respond to accommodate these changes. If you think you need a 150-person meeting today—chances are your programs will still need to accommodate 150 people but for the foreseeable future—how we accommodate 150 people will be a combination of room capacity, technology, and streaming content to remote participants.

Yes, these are disruptive times, and through them we will learn more and shape the future of libraries. Working together, we apply our collective knowledge and experience to make good decisions as good stewards of public funds. Through empathy and inclusivity, libraries will continue to serve everyone in our communities as safe and welcoming environments today and for the future. This is the role of the public library!