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Control lab construction and renovation costs.

Knowing when to renovate a laboratory or proceed with new construction is always a challenge for any research-based company or institution.

If your decision is not supported by proper analysis early in the planning and design phase, you may incur serious cost overruns by deciding to renovate or build the wrong space. What at first inspection appeared to be the less expensive option may not be in the end.

Here are some guidelines to follow when choosing either renovation or building from scratch, to help keep your project on budget:

Never attempt to upgrade the sophistication of an existing research facility.

If you have a chemistry lab, for example, you've built a certain level of sophistication into it--a certain amount of hood space, casework, and equipment. Renovating such a facility into a more sophisticated lab, such as a clean room, will be very costly.

It is far more cost-effective to downgrade an existing lab in terms of sophistication. Turn existing lab space into office or support space--never the other way around. Reserve the sophisticated research spaces--the clean rooms, the animal vivariums, and the biosafety laboratories--for a new laboratory addition.

Coordinate the timing of the move-in and start-up of new or renovated labs with existing research schedules.

Even with adequate allowance made during renovation for relocation of researchers, and their work and equipment, the renovation must be phased in in such a way to minimize disruptions to ongoing research.

Just as with renovation activities, the staging of the occupation and start-up of labs (whether related to renovation or new construction) needs to be coordinated with existing research schedules.

Anticipate and accept change.

With any R&D facilities project, whether involving new construction or renovation, a certain amount of change in the project scope is to be expected. The temptation to freeze the project at a certain point to meet the original cost goal must be resisted.

If you decide to renovate your lab, there will be conditions in your building you won't be aware of until you actually begin construction. No "as built" records, no matter how meticulously kept, will prepare you for every eventuality that might arise.

One way to deal with inevitable change is to build flexibility into the design. Also, include a contingency factor in the budget to cover such circumstances. Generally, allocate 10% of your project cost as a contingency during the design phase and 5 during the construction phase (see chart).

Know exactly what the cost numbers represent.

Know your definitions--what is in each and every cost category for design and construction. Everyone concerned must grasp the scope of work.

Comparisons between the costs of the renovation of your existing laboratory vs. new construction are meaningless unless care is given to consistent definitions of the scope of work. For example, architects and builders typically will include conventional casework and fume hoods in their construction cost estimates.

But, with today's trend toward more flexible laboratory furniture, the definition of what is included has become less clear.

Are the laboratory technicians' workstations part of the casework budget or do they belong in the office furnishings budget? Where do lab stools belong? Some labs have found themselves without these essentials on move-in day, simply because they were not budgeted, though someone assumed them to be.

Concentrate on what you cannot see.

When it comes to cost control, don't focus on factors you can see, such as finishes on walls and floors, millwork details, or lighting. These actually cost relatively little.

Instead, focus on aspects you ultimately will not see--the engineered systems, such as heating, ventilation, and air conditioning, ductwork, plumbing, and electrical systems. By comparison, these will cost the most, and therefore present the greatest opportunity for cost control.

One sharp-eyed chemist took the mechanical engineering drawings for his new laboratory home and traced the ductwork in colored pencil. He found the duct supplying air to his laboratory was over 200 ft long, even though the air conditioning unit was less than 100 ft away.

By shortening the ductwork, he not only saved considerable construction dollars in sheet metal, but he was able to reduce the fan horsepower of the unit which supplied the air to the laboratory. This resulted in a direct savings in electrical operating cost.

Use interactive scheduling.

Get input from users, engineers, designers, facilities managers, and contractors. Make certain all parties involved use the same scheduling software. Pool and merge their information, and then make sure all parties refer to the common information regularly.

This approach works far better than using a master schedule generated by one party, which others tend to ignore. Through good interactive scheduling, it is not uncommon to shorten a 30-month design-and-construction schedule by 6 or 8 months.

Use team building.

In the past, the progression of input to a project has been sequential--from owner, to architect, to engineer, to contractor. However, today, using team-building techniques gleaned from other industries, all of these parties are often brought together right from the start.

While only a few years ago it was common for the average laboratory building project to take 24 to 34 months from design through construction, today's new biotech companies accomplish the same projects in 14 to 20 months.

Corporations frequently assemble their team of architects, engineers, project managers, contractors, and subcontractors for a weekend in a hotel away from the project site. This allows them to freely brainstorm scheduling issues.

Such team-building efforts pay back with tangible results in cost and time savings. One large East Coast company organized bimonthly team-building sessions during a two-year laboratory construction project, and is convinced of their contribution.

Often, a team approach means selecting a building contractor based on criteria other than solely a competitive bid. A contractor working as part of your team will keep the project rolling with fewer unpleasant surprises.

Alex B. Brouwer, AIA, is president of Ewing Cole Brouwer, a research and development facilities planning and programming firm in Philadelphia. This article was originally prepared for Hamilton Industries' INFO-BANK technical information program.
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Title Annotation:research laboratories
Author:Brouwer, Alex B.
Publication:R & D
Date:Feb 18, 1992
Words:1003
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