by George Waddell
Mechanical, electrical, and plumbing (MEP) systems are critical components for a new, state-of-the-art lab or cGMP-ready building. How these systems are integrated into the core and shell lays the groundwork for future tenants to come in and design a space that meets their distinct needs. Developing a quality base building MEP program early on to guide the design, purchasing, and construction efforts is crucial to creating the kind of cutting-edge life science facility companies will want to move into.
A life science facility’s overall design determines the location of the MEP systems. Main fire protection, electrical, and plumbing services enter below-grade and are distributed throughout the building core based on the desired program. The most efficient use of space is typically through shafts and risers that are adjacent to the elevators and stairwells. Building Information Modeling (BIM) helps establish construction tolerances and alignment relationships between the intended structure, utilities, and finishes. Developing a 3D model by combining the structural intent from the architectural design drawings with subcontractor shop drawings allows identification and correction of any potential fit and location issues well before construction begins.
Finding the right balance for the desired core and shell program stems from understanding the tenant market needs. Developers are partnering with construction managers like Erland to determine the best way to meet their pro forma while ensuring the base building is as attractive as possible. Determining what falls under the core and shell versus what would be better suited for the fit-out upfront minimizes rework and allows developers and tenants to initiate a lease and occupy a space much sooner.
Generally, a developer would own the MEP infrastructure required to provide a building that meets standard code requirements and is deemed safe for occupancy. However, there has been a recent shift where some developers are providing bare-bones HVAC, choosing to only support very minimal heating and cooling loads in more of a temporary service capacity before a tenant agreement. We do still see some developers choosing to provide systems large enough to support the whole facility and future fit-out work upfront. Others will include some of the wants and needs of a specific tenant(s) based on experience, location, or desired industry.
During the preconstruction process, we recommend procuring major components as far ahead of the scheduled installation date as possible. Ongoing supply chain and escalation issues are industry-wide, with excessive lead times on major components like switchgears, generators, and HVAC equipment that range from eight months to a full year away from the order release to delivery. As part of this trend, we are making efforts to procure major components as far ahead of the scheduled installation date as possible. Material lead times are being coordinated with best practices for construction schedules based on information provided by manufacturers. Creative “workarounds” are now the norm when approaching most projects regarding these schedule unknowns and shortcomings. In some cases, the equipment has even been shipped “loose” for fabrication onsite or completion at subcontractor fabrication facilities to expedite its availability.
A quality base building MEP program calculated at the beginning of a project brings value to the client and prevents issues that could be detrimental to the budget and schedule.
George Waddell is senior MEP project manager at Erland Construction, Inc.