by Jen Luoni
Understanding the gamut of possibilities for repositioning extends beyond the limits of a piece of paper. To properly assess a building’s construction, each component must be understood from the perspective of multiple parties. MEP systems, exterior facades and rooves are factors to be analyzed both individually and as a collective contribution to design. Recently Dacon assessed the feasibility of putting a lab within a former office building. While seemingly straightforward at first glance, it became an in-depth project in repositioning.
Municipal: Many projects will proceed with design before understanding clearly what is allowed by the town and zoning. A change in use can trigger hearings, adding parking and be subject to negation or a special variance. In this instance the use of a lab is closely related to an office use as the code views it, but in other cases it is not easy. Additionally, parking allotment varies widely. For example warehouses require minimal spaces, but to convert it into an office would triple the parking requirement.
Building: Lab spaces tend to have less demand for exterior glass and walls that are insulated correctly to help properly maintain required lab environments. Too much glass or lack of properly insulated walls can impact the usability of the space. Additionally, an office tenant has low demand for receiving and shipping needs, so packages can be handled easily at the reception. However a lab has higher demands and often a loading dock is required to receive and ship equipment/products which poses an incremental cost to the project.
Mechanical Systems: Office HVAC systems need to be adjusted for labs to accommodate stricter environments spanning increased air flow to additional ventilation. Supplementing or swapping out equipment is not the only item to consider. New units can entail structural work and added power loads to the building.
Electrical Systems: Electrical service is most often designed by use. Typically, offices have low demand primarily to service HVAC equipment, lighting and computers. Lab electrical loads can be double that of offices. Additionally, as LED lighting becomes a predominant choice, this must be factored in. Backup generators are another concern, as lab tests must remain undisturbed in power outages.
Plumbing Systems: A standard office building’s water requirement is focused on toilet cores, break rooms and janitors’ closets. Labs necessitate sinks, eyewashes and emergency showers. At times, purified water is necessary. The subsequent water demand increases sewer loads and added piping installed.
Fire Protection Systems: If a building has a sufficient sprinkler system it tends to have the least impact on repositioning, however if the building is not currently sprinklered or the lab requires a higher hazard use due to chemical exposure the impact can be significant.
While the factors listed above can be identified to a certain degree, it takes expertise from each trade’s building component to delineate both impact and cost for the project. Repositioning buildings, particularly for labs, requires true feasibility merging architecture, engineering, estimating and construction means/methods. Collective reference is the best way to obtain an optimal financial and design outcome.
Jen Luoni is director of operations – architecture at Dacon Corporation.