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You Don’t Know What You Don’t Know: The Actual Cost of New S&T Spaces

Iceberg shot showing how large is really is under the water.
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Finally! Your company has decided that your facilities need a serious update to support growth and efficiency.  This is an exciting time, but the million (or more likely millions) dollar question is: “Can we efficiently renovate our building, or will we have to build new?”

Each project has a unique set of circumstances that are important for key stakeholders to consider before beginning a design. Unfortunately, some of these factors are less than obvious despite being imperative for the future success of the project. These factors include opportunity cost (e.g. how will construction affect staff retention and attraction, production or profitability of your business?), schedule, phasing and complexity. To avoid unpleasant surprises down the road, stakeholders must be willing to embark on a detailed study of options, led by professionals, to fully understand the logistics and cost of a project. 

Renovation vs. New Build

Once you know the project drivers and needs, you begin to ask: “Do we need a new building, or can we renovate our current space? Does a renovation cost less than a greenfield project? Is a renovation logistically feasible?” Understanding of “internal capacity” for surge space (where people and operations displaced by remodeling will temporarily reside) is often underestimated. Creating redundant labs for critical operations can mean building expensive space twice (or even more often). 

The move-phases that are often required for a renovation can resemble a sliding puzzle game, with complicated work spaces moving about the facility to get the best final layout. Disruption of operations during construction leads some clients to quickly reconsider renovation strategies. Every build, relocation and deconstruction effort takes valuable time and dollars, so it is important to examine your options before deciding. A formal concept study is a good way to start identifying these variables.

The concept study (containing preliminary plan options, a space program, cost estimates, etc.) can help summarize the pros and cons of each option before making a final decision. For example, during initial planning for our recent client, Encapsys, LLC, we were asked to evaluate the cost, opportunities and pitfalls of renovating a warehouse building versus them purchasing land and building new. Once the study was completed, they quickly decided to build new.

Once you have considered the logistics associated with renovating versus building new, it is important to identify the variables that will influence your best course of action down the road (e.g. time constraints, current infrastructure, existing hazardous materials to deal with, etc.).

What is the Actual Cost of Our Decision?

With so many unseen variables that can affect overall cost, making the initial effort to reveal these factors prior to beginning a design is imperative. Hire design and construction professionals to create conceptual and schematic options with anticipated costs associated with each.  Being aware of the right type of project for you (i.e. renovation versus new build), your construction variables, and the total estimated cost of your project will save you a lot of time, money and headache down the road.


In my next entry, I’ll share the results of an evaluation of a recent R&D client that had to decide between revitalizing a prominent urban site they’ve occupied since the early 50’s or constructing a whole new building in a suburban area.

S+T Lab Expert Contributor