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Time for a new lab! Now what?...

Scientists working around a table and looking through a  microscope.
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Deciding to expand, renovate or build a new lab is an exciting, big opportunity – it’s also a lot of work and something that many scientists have never done. Who should they call first? What can they do to facilitate the best process to guide the expansion and protect themselves from making mistakes?

Who to Call
You have a product to deliver and new funding for growth. You need to expand. What next? Remodel? Construct an addition? Build new? Own? Lease? These are common issues and decisions our clients face. I propose a strategy that will streamline the entire process, take a load off your plate, and help provide transparency to your leadership who expect you to make smart decisions – start by hiring an architect and build your team from there. I’ve found that assembling the best and most complete professional team early in a project is essential for success. The shared objective is optimized cost, clear communication, trusting team dynamics and a schedule without surprises. The goals, expectations and objectives of the project are more likely to be achieved when each team member fully understands them and can help contribute their expertise at the right time. How you establish the platform of collaboration is important.

Define and Prioritize What’s Most Important
The biggest advantage to bringing an architect onto your team first is to help you establish your priorities and needs. Engaging the architect at a project’s inception allows you to explore and test your options in depth with a design professional before committing to major decisions. Architects are trained to help uncover and itemize your existing operating challenges, summarize your equipment and space needs and explore your company culture and employee expectations. With your critical input, we design schematic solutions that respond to your priorities.

Once needs and priorities have been established and documented by the architect, the next step is to carefully select a real estate professional and a builder. The architect can help in this part of the process by offering a list of qualified firms and individuals to consider. We will prepare a Project Charter of your needs, priorities and requirements to help solicit proposals and coordinate interviews. The Project Charter explains concisely who you are, what you need, your schedule and approximate budget. It defines your functional requirements and quality expectations. If you prefer to lease space, but require a custom building, the charter is also a cost-effective tool to make sure developer proposals are comparable. This team-building phase is critical to you. With your architect, you and your leadership will review comparable proposals and interview a short list of firms. You will select the advisers that most fit your personality and culture. Your design-build team, your project advisers – including the architect, real estate professional, attorney, builder and developer – can now start to collaborate on your behalf. As a leader of the team at this point, the architect will draw out the ideas and expertise of each adviser in order to factor cost, schedule, municipality options and detailed design solutions. With the whole team collaborating, every factor is transparent for your benefit. The team succeeds when you can make smart, reliable and timely decisions.

Transparency Is Essential
Your advisers will be working open-book. Costs and fees are transparent to you. Everyone is there to serve you, to help you and to make you look good. The best way you can contribute to the team’s success is by being timely, fair, open to ideas and direct. Your time is valuable, so when you are with your team it’s important that you are engaged and communicate any changes you need as soon as possible. Your team will feel respected by you and the project will keep or gain momentum.

Encapsys Case Study
Encapsys, LLC engaged this approach for their new headquarters, a 45,000 sq ft microencapsulation facility recently completed in Appleton, WI. Growing rapidly and needing to move for business reasons, Encapsys ( hired EUA and a qualified builder to develop a Project Charter and test-fit the company needs into an existing nearby building. Encapsys leadership engaged their staff in discussions with the architect to identify the top project goals, priorities and drivers. The valuable input helped to refine the ideal scenarios for their business and culture. EUA was able to apply the Project Charter to schematic designs that tested the feasibility and cost to fit the new plant into the existing building. The test-fits proved that the building was not ideal. Pros and Cons were enumerated from every perspective. In many cases, the test-fits prove otherwise, but in this case a decision was made to look at other alternatives. 

After comparing the costs of renovation versus developer-owned new construction, Encapsys concluded that a leased, new facility would best serve their needs. The new design would help their scientists and staff be more efficient and collaborative while offering more daylight, ventilation and amenities than the alternatives they considered. All project costs were transparent, reserving an appropriate contingency for changes along the way. The groundbreaking was a community celebration and the ribbon-cutting was greeted with equal fanfare, celebrated a final project that was completed on time and under budget.

Planning an ideal project is never easy, but Encapsys had excellent staff buy-in and excitement about the enhanced collaboration and building amenities the project created. In the year since they moved in, the new facility has helped improve staff retention, built on the company culture, and made recruitment of top talent easier.

S+T Expert Contributor