Dees Stribling, Contributing Editor
Boston–The Wilber School Apartments have received both LEED gold certification under the LEED-for-Homes program, and a J. Timothy Anderson Award (a Timmy) for Best Historic Rehabilitation Involving New Construction from the National Housing & Rehabilitation Association. Curiously enough, the property achieved both those distinctions during the same week in late October.
The 105,000-square-foot development consists of full rehabilitation of a school originally built in 1922 and the addition of a modern, complementary new wing, by developers Beacon Communities L.L.C. and Frontier Enterprises Inc., and with architects Prellwitz Chilinski Associates (PCA) providing the design. About one-third of the apartments are reserved for households making up to 30 percent, 50 percent or 100 percent of the area median income. Since opening in January, Wilber School Apartments is already 87 percent leased.
LEED for Homes is the national certification program for homes designed and built to be energy and resource efficient as well as healthy and durable for occupants. Among other criteria, Wilber School Apartments’ gold certification was based on comprehensive Home Energy Rating System testing through the Energy Star program and on-site technical inspections.
Named for a pioneer in the adaptive reuse of historic structures, the “Timmy Awards” primarily honor rehabilitation projects using federal historic tax credits. A multidisciplinary national panel of judges score projects based on overall design and quality, interpretation and respect of historic elements, innovative construction and building materials, impact on the community, sustainability and market success.
Do these distinctions matter to tenants, or more importantly, potential tenants? Those closely involved with the redevelopment say they do.
“Wilber School is an example of sustainable preservation as a business strategy,” Jason Cohen, the project architect, tells MHN. “To tenants, green design can be measured in dollars and cents: it lowers utility costs, which is particularly significant in mixed-income developments.”
But it’s more than just money, Cohen continues. “A project like Wilber combines that financial incentive with an emotional attachment,” he says. “Folks connect to this building in a way that they wouldn’t if it were just another new development. If they don’t have a personal memory of the school, they know it as part of the fabric of the town. Harnessing such a familial feeling while promoting the financial benefits of sustainability creates a powerful leasing advantage.”
David Chilinski, PCA president and principal-in-charge on the project, agrees with that assessment. “The competitive advantage of sustainable restoration can be seen in the velocity of the leasing process,” he tells MHN. “Tenants have cited connection to Wilber School and the sustainable design as factors in their initial decision to tour the building. Once there, they’re convinced.”