Professional Development: Facility Upgrade And Retrofitting Strategies
By Ramin R. Cherafat
Published in the November 2010 issue of Today’s Facility Manager
Today’s corporate, institutional, and industrial buildings are being called upon to perform and deliver within a leaner and tighter economic climate than most facility managers (fms) have ever experienced. Facility upgrades and retrofits will often be required as offices, universities, manufacturers, researchers, and others look for cost-efficient methods of expanding and preparing for a future economic rebound.
Three key issues should be considered when a building renovation is called for: expandability, flexibility, and phasing. The following strategies may guide fms, designers, and construction managers during a project.
Expandability. Site topography and placement will impact any future expansion. Parking, which is a major component and often a constraint, frequently becomes inadequate, requiring expansion.
Future growth of the building itself should be considered; the ease or difficulty of horizontal or vertical growth will be impacted by the building design. The internal layout of the building ought to be simple, direct, and logical. When interiors are organized simply, future expansion is easier and less costly.
Building infrastructure (aka the “bones” of a building) includes the structural, mechanical, electrical, and telecom/IT systems and are critical to the smart growth of an existing facility. Ductwork, piping, and electrical circuits should be designed in a way that eases expansion; a simple, organized floor plan is essential.
Specifying larger capacity boilers, chillers, and fans than are initially required will facilitate future growth. Conversely, modular mechanical equipment may be appropriate and permit ease of expansion [See “The Mounting Case For Modular Central Plants.”] Modular mechanical, electrical, and plumbing (MEP) systems, which represent as much as 50% of the total construction cost, will also create cost synergies during renovation.
The Bioscience and Technology Business Center (Lawrence, KS) project is an example of built-in expandability. The facility includes the complete infrastructure/building shell, but only a portion features completed interiors and finishes. The decision to plan ahead during the initial phase will save considerable costs when the time comes to expand the labs in the future.
Flexibility. While a laboratory facility is not likely to be adapted into classroom space, an administrative building with numerous private offices could very conceivably be converted into an open office plan. These types of likely or even possible changes should be considered.
The choice of a structural system and the resultant bay size is important. Larger structural bays allow greater flexibility when a building must be reconfigured for new uses; at the same time, the cost of larger spans must be considered.
Modular wall systems may be appropriate and desirable. These systems afford a high degree of flexibility in reorganizing space; recent modular wall systems provide better acoustic performance than ever in terms of acoustic separation and sound transmission characteristics.
Voice and data systems will continue to evolve, and the likelihood of increasing demands on bandwidth and wireless capabilities will continue. The capability of the building to accept new technology is crucial.
When planning for a new student union, the University of Missouri-Kansas City placed flexibility at the top of its list. The newly constructed building will serve as a mini “central plant” for multiple surrounding buildings.
During the pre-construction phase of the project, detailed planning and preparation for the mechanical room and equipment in the new facility was required to ensure the systems could serve the multiple buildings and be tied into the central utility loop on campus to provide additional capacity. Provisions were made during the pre-construction phase to add a cooling tower in the future.
When managing the Stowers Institute for Medical Research Support Facility project (pictured above), an existing distribution/warehouse center was transformed into a multi-use facility that includes offices and a laboratory.
With the installation of a new central plant, the facility will support and service the MEP systems of the lab spaces. The design and construction teams were able to provide the facilities team at Stowers with all the building features it desired. Furthermore, the project site has vast space that could be expanded in the future.
Complex phasing. Construction phasing has been an albatross around many an fm’s neck. Moving personnel and equipment is never a welcoming activity, and the disruption that construction creates is real and has genuine cost. Phasing can be accomplished two ways—either dependent on space or time.
Fms and their construction teams should develop a clear, detailed phasing plan for any expansion project. Certain construction activities can occur simultaneously in different spaces, while other activities must take place at separate times. Regardless of how phasing is accomplished, usually swing space (temporary space for workers and processes during construction) must be provided.
Multiple projects can occur together, particularly if they are spread apart on a campus. This will affect pedestrian and traffic movement and require coordinated access and road closures, but, on the other hand, it will allow construction to be completed in a shorter timeframe.
Some construction projects must be undertaken in off hours; educational projects may be built during school breaks or summer vacations.
A great example of both flexibility and complex phasing is an animal research facility project currently happening at Kansas State University. In anticipation of future capacity demands, the construction team is working with the owner, architect, and designers to accommodate the future plans. Mechanical and electrical equipment is being appropriately sized to allow for more capacity than what the current project needs to operate.
Although adding cost to the current project, the pre-planning will save the owner money in the long-term and leave the facility more flexibility in the future.
The skilled fm will tap his or her design and construction team for an expansion. By employing the concepts of expandability, flexibility, and phasing, fms can undertake projects in a cost-effective manner, within a controlled schedule, and at the desired level of quality. Keeping these three strategic tools in mind, professionals can assure successful facility upgrades and retrofits.
Cherafat is a partner and vice president of operations with McCownGordon Construction. He has experience in construction management, design build, and general contracting for the biosciences fields.
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