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To Build or Not to Build?

Article by: Tonya Dittman, Ryan Bakke, Brenden Frazier

Four things to consider with urgent space needs.

If your original plans to construct a new facility (or renovate an existing one) have been put on hold, you’re not alone. While there is always uncertainty and risk surrounding business planning and facility investments, the past year has brought a greater sense of urgency and importance in how we respond to facility needs. No matter your circumstances, pain points like the ones below haven’t evaporated; they may have simply shifted.

Our facility feels old and needs major repairs.

We’re out of space and it no longer serves our operation and the way we work.

Many of our employees are now working remote, freeing up space. However, it’s revealing other needs.

Construction cost escalations and long lead times have us second-guessing whether now is the right time to build.

Doing nothing is now riskier than ever. A little planning can go a long way in uncovering and addressing the most important issues to you. Here are a few strategies we often explore with clients to create a holistic planning model as facility spending decisions are being made:

Respond to Maintenance Issues

Facilities that have postponed critical maintenance tasks often face extensive damage and costly repairs that can negatively impact business. If one of the reasons you are planning to build includes an aging facility in need of repair, some projects simply can’t wait. Roof replacement or repair is a common maintenance issue that can cause major challenges if not addressed. Additional common failures that are quickly addressable include repairing window leaks with caulking or re-flashing or replacing worn flooring so the subfloor isn’t in disrepair. Also, consider that some maintenance requirements stem from safety concerns. Small, relatively inexpensive projects like updating safety railings, installing new security doors, painting rusting surfaces, and maintaining exits to remain in compliance with OSHA and ADA standards are examples of maintenance projects that could help prevent injuries and legal issues. Ensuring maintenance issues don’t progress to the point of failure can alleviate many headaches and save money by not having to do a total replacement. From a proactive standpoint, up-front maintenance and repairs also improve a building’s resale value and enhance the working environment for your employees.

Remodel Select Areas of a Facility

To some, remodeling an existing facility while knowing they will eventually build a new one seems counterintuitive. However, there are benefits to this approach.

If you’re planning on selling your existing facility, a minor remodeling job could increase your property value and significantly improve your chances of selling the building faster.

Minor remodels can also serve as a “test pilot” to plan and test “next practices” and confirm future space adjacencies, furniture, equipment layouts, etc. It is a low-risk way to test the impact future space changes will have on the people and processes in your operation. It also helps with change management by creating buy-in and confirming the intended design goals for a future new facility that will really work.

A minor remodel is also an opportunity to test the waters with an architect and contractor. This is a great learning experience prior to a more ambitious project that might be on the horizon.

Repurpose Space & Test Technology

With the increase in remote workers, many facilities no longer have capacity constraints for office workers. Likewise, conference rooms may not need to be so large; however, their technology needs might be more complex due to increased virtual meetings. Offices can be repurposed into small conference rooms equipped with video conferencing technology, such as TVs, speakers, and better lighting, allowing those conference rooms and other unused space to be repurposed for more collaborative work. This also presents a unique opportunity to test the technology before rolling out changes across the organization.

In a manufacturing facility,  you could repurpose areas to provide specialty services or house new equipment. Removal of walls or demolition of a section of the building to reconfigure space could help ramp up operations and temporarily alleviate capacity constraints until a new facility can be built.

Consider Retrocommissioning (RCx)

As building systems drift from original settings and system components age, energy consumption and operating costs can creep up. Even occupant comfort and health can be hampered. This is where retro-commissioning (RCx) can be beneficial. RCx is the process of assessing a building’s performance and making sure everything is functioning as it should. It helps owners make low-cost adjustments to an existing building’s operation to improve its energy and comfort performance and ensure the ventilation systems are properly addressing occupancy loads. Often these adjustments are changes in sequences of operation in HVAC controls, such as temperature or airflow resets and scheduling changes. For example, ensuring you are not simultaneously heating and cooling the air and that the building occupancy schedule matches the controls system schedule. Additionally, a qualified engineer can determine whether physical assets are in good condition or if repairs are needed. The timing for this is excellent, as updated weather data for analyzing heating and cooling loads in your building was published by ASHRAE this summer.

This article shares more about the benefits of RCx, view the ASHRAE article.

In Summary: A Little Planning Goes a Long Way

If you believe that you will eventually need to expand or build, it can feel illogical or even wasteful to spend money on planning. Rather than downsizing your plans or scrapping them altogether, consider it as stretching your dollars and right-sizing your project to serve your customers best, business functions and employees until it’s time to build. There’s no single answer, which stresses the importance of collaborating with a qualified planner/design-engineering partner who can help you determine a holistic, overall plan. Not all firms excel at this type of planning, so make sure to engage a firm that is knowledgeable about code, environmental issues and even the available grants and rebates that are available. Your chosen partner should be able to assess your current facility, make recommendations based on your unique needs for renovating, repositioning or replacing, and plan with the future — and your budget — in mind.

Additional Resources: Researching Grants and Rebates

There are numerous incentives that can help organizations with the cost of facility upgrades. Many local economic development groups and governmental agencies have grants for people and organizations looking, for example, to spruce up facades or improve their energy efficiency. To find policies and incentives by state, check out DSIRE – Database of State Incentives for Renewables & Efficiency®. Here are a few additional resources:

Performa is a fully integrated firm of architects and engineers giving purpose the space to thrive. Many of our clients have faced similar challenges when planning a building project like you may be facing. We would be happy to discuss your building and corrective maintenance needs and help you determine the next steps in the building or renovation process. Contact us if you’d like to learn more.

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