5 considerations for laboratory site selection
When planning for a new laboratory or expanding your current operation, sometimes location can limit availability, or size can impact the structural capability of a space. Every site will have pros and cons. That’s why it’s important to consider these five things during site selection.
Consideration 1: Location
Location impacts site selection in a number of ways. The first is the existing space availability. The East and West coasts are home to a large amount of pharmaceutical and biotech start-ups with varied success rates. This often makes existing laboratory spaces available. Viable reusable laboratory space is fewer and farther between in the Midwest. However, there can be strategic advantages, such as a lower cost-of-living in the Midwest. If existing laboratory space is not available and new construction is not financially feasible, the next option is to convert some other type of existing space.
The type of science you are planning to do can also influence the location of the new facility. When vetting different sites, consider how the surrounding area supports the science to be completed in the lab and how the local/regional infrastructure impacts transportation logistics. For example, if you’re building a testing lab, where are the samples coming from? Do you need proximity to an airport or a regional package distribution hub? If the lab performs time-sensitive testing, the location can be the most important consideration during site selection. Another very important factor is the available workforce. Do potential employees have the right skills set or are there nearby training centers to develop those skills in the region.
Consideration 2: Size
Whether new construction or renovation, size is a major consideration of site selection. When determining how big of a space you need, try to plan for the future, not just your current operation. In five years, will this space still be what you need? Can you add workstations or testing capabilities? Sometimes, multi-tenant space can be a good solution for size flexibility because it could come with the first right of refusal to an adjacent space in the building.
Balancing size with cost can be complicated. A large open space like a warehouse will boast a desirable cost per square foot, but it could require a greater upfront investment to get site utilities and structural supports to a sufficient level. On the other hand, selecting a smaller space that may require less of an upfront investment may not meet your needs long term. Growing out of the facility too soon and having to relocate again will almost always cost more than selecting a site that is large enough for growth, but may need a greater initial investment. It can often come down to when and how you want to invest in your facility.
Consideration 3: Site Utilities
Laboratory functions typically require more complex and powerful utilities than an average building provides. For this reason, buildings that are or have been renovated for labs can help you save a significant amount of capital. These savings can give your budget greater flexibility for tenant improvements.
The large amount of equipment needed in a laboratory places an extremely high and critical demand on electrical systems. Likewise, clean power could be required for highly sensitive instruments because a spike in voltage can damage expensive equipment. Sample and supply inventories may also require a robust emergency power system so that the storage equipment operates without interruption to prevent damage or loss caused by an outage. To bring most existing facilities in line with these demands, they will need increased electrical service and potentially a new or additional emergency generator.
Commercial plumbing systems are usually designed to accommodate an average number of restrooms and sinks in areas such as breakrooms or kitchens. Laboratories utilize many additional plumbing fixtures such as lab sinks, handwash sinks, glass wash equipment, emergency eyewash/shower stations and floor drains, all of which increase supply and drainage needs. In addition, some laboratories even produce waste that requires a separate drainage system. These can be either biological or chemical in nature and is not allowed in the local or city system. Modifying or adding an entire plumbing system can be very disruptive. It will likely interrupt the building’s services and potentially require extensive demolition of the concrete slab.
Depending on the nature of the science and the class of laboratory, the requirements of the mechanical system may be more complex. Clean rooms and isolated testing require an intricate air supply system that can impact other areas of design. For most laboratories, floor space is considered “prime real estate” and it may not make economic sense for it to be utilized for major mechanical equipment; therefore, the best option for housing mechanical equipment is usually above the ceiling or on the roof. This places additional demand on the building’s structural system.
Consideration 4: Structural
While a large open space may be ideal because of the amount of available floor space, several of those building types will require a reinforced structure to support roof-top mechanical equipment. If the space has high ceilings, installing a mezzanine level can be a cost-effective solution. Maintenance needs and ease of access to the facility’s MEP equipment will heavily influence the choice between the proposed locations.
Bringing the facility up to current building code can create a significant cost impact. Once a small percentage of the existing structure is modified, the code requires the entire structure to be upgraded to current standards. Current code standards will always have more stringent structural requirements for earthquakes, hurricanes and other natural disasters.
Neighboring tenants can also impact the structural environment of a potential space. Excessive noise and vibration caused by another tenant’s business operations can introduce new variables and disrupt sensitive equipment. You don’t want to build a testing lab, with sensitive equipment, next to an auto body shop. Measures can be taken to manage these complications, but for some operations, this is a considerable risk.
Consideration 5: Long-term planning and projected growth
At CRB, we recommend using a data-driven planning approach to site selection. Our method determines potential growth scenarios and outlines the priority of specific criteria to facilitate the site selection process. If you don’t consider how the operation will need to expand or fully understand its lifespan before selecting a facility, you could end up investing too much money in a space. Think about your operational procedures. Will you need more lab or office workspace in two years; how about five years? What about storage? Will you need to grow multiple inventories at different rates? If they need to be stored within a controlled environment onsite, growing these inventories will impact your utility demand and size needs.
We believe that long-term planning and projected growth are so important to the success of your facility that we have a consulting team focused on it. Our Strategic Facility Planning (SFP) team helps clients analyze their current operations and then provides a roadmap for accommodating their growth. SFP works with each client to understand their unique situation whether they are planning for three-years, five-years, or their unique growth horizon. We help our clients take a proactive approach to creating the best space for their operation by defining their needs and preparing a road map to get there.
Ready to begin?
No matter where you are in the site selection process taking these five things into consideration will help you make an informed and strategic decision for your laboratory project. Even though there is no such thing as a perfect site, CRB can provide the design services to make it what you need. We are here to help you define what you’re looking for and make it function for your current and long-term needs.