by Hani Mardini
Design and coordination of mechanical, electrical, and plumbing (MEP) systems for life sciences facilities is particularly challenging since the quantity of individual systems and their specific access requirements are typically much more demanding than other facility types. The MEP systems are critical to the planning and future performance of a facility. There are many factors that require scrupulous consideration:
- The type of science, learning, and research activities that are planned.
- Specialty systems that may be required (for example, toxic or hazardous exhaust).
- The extent and type of MEP services, including flexibility for future reconfiguration of the spaces.
- Operation and maintenance costs.
Technical expertise of the design team is a key factor when selecting the MEP consultant. Knowledge of relevant science, numerous codes and standards, and experience, are essential for development and coordination with owner, architect, stakeholders, and other specialty design teams. A qualified MEP consultant would ensure suitable design completeness, technical space planning, and proper equipment specification, selection, and capacities. It is important for the MEP consultant to be proactive and to develop an organized methodology for extracting intent and preferences from the owner, researchers, and other stakeholders. This approach helps the design team to determine and develop the MEP needs of the facility based on the specific requirements of the client. Most importantly, with a proactive mentality the MEP consultant helps to facilitate a conversation between the design team and the client to ensure that the ultimate client needs are identified.
There are significant differences between types of facilities, and determining a configuration for one building may not be applicable to other facilities. It is important to consider the MEP services at the conceptual stages of the project based on intended science, learning, research, and experiments that will be implemented to ensure that space is properly allocated and early level cost estimates are appropriate. The MEP consultant would typically engage with the owner in the early stages of design to assist in developing an appropriate MEP budget (sometimes 30% to 40% of construction cost for labs) with reviewing MEP systems that will are suitable for the facility’s intended life cycle, and offer guidance with comparisons of system options and value engineering that would align with the owner’s intent.
Once systems are identified, the MEP consultant would closely coordinate with the team to plan and determine optimal MEP plant location, technical space sizes, and distribution shafts/risers. Locating systems would include consideration of access for maintenance with minimal impact on the individual laboratories and building spaces. The team would also consider safety related to the design, including providing pressurization relationships between laboratories and other spaces. Coordination of routes for specialty systems, such as gases, would contribute to defining an architectural concealment solution that integrates with the overall look of the facility. Sustainability would also be considered by the MEP consultant, and includes building modeling, enhancing indoor air quality, maximizing energy efficiency, and identifying potential for water reclamation.
Flexibility of systems for future reconfiguration is critical for laboratory facilities, as the research and experiments may require to be updated based on client needs and advancements in the future. Proper planning by the MEP consultant would ensure that equipment areas are accessible, risers can be readily modified and expanded, and routes are sized for a reasonable level of expandability.
Defining proper commissioning of systems and startup tests by the MEP consultant leads to satisfactory future operation and maintenance (O&M) by facility personnel. Commissioning serves to optimize operating efficiencies and costs. Collecting record documents and maintenance/service manuals is also imperative so that facility teams have a readily available reference set during O&M activities during occupancy.
The MEP consultant is a critical member of the design team. By engaging early, properly planning, thoroughly understanding needs, guiding commissioning activities, and considering future O&M concerns, their overall team will achieve the goal of creating a facility that meets budget constraints and which will provide current and future needs for the science, learning, and research activities.