Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Before You Hire an Architect

Thinking about tomorrow's webinar Before You Hire an Architect, some basic questions for a nonprofit considering new construction or renovation include:

  • Do you really need to build?
    You may need more space, but facilities are generally the most expensive and inflexible solution to a problem.
    1. Sometimes more creative scheduling is a way to get more from the space you have already.
    2. Or renting space can be more cost effective than buying or building.
    3. Do you have any under-used space that you could renovate for more intensive use?
  • Are you sufficiently clear about what you need and want?
    1. Do you know the size of spaces or the number of people you need to accommodate?
    2. Have you thought about the qualities of spaces, or the institutional identity you want to convey?
  • Do you know the kinds of decisions you’ll have to make along the way, and will you be ready to make them quickly to avoid delays and added costs?
  • Can you manage the full costs?
    1. It's important to understand the difference between construction cost (the figure known to the architect and contractor as the budget) and project cost, which includes site acquisition, fees, furnishings, equipment, a contingency fund, borrowing cost, and a maintenance fund.
    2. Beyond capital costs, new facilities incur ongoing operating expenses. Will you be able to manage those costs?
    3. Buildings need ongoing maintenance. You should assume full replacement over no more than 40 years. If you don’t budget for that you will be placing a serious future burden on the organization.

These are just a few of the essential questions you need to be able to answer before moving ahead. Hiring an architect before you are ready to answer them is like getting into a taxi and asking the driver to go somewhere without being able to tell him or her where you want to go or knowing how much it will cost. In both cases it's better to be very clear about what you want before the meter gets turned on. For more information see the webinar archive and articles on facility planning at synthesispartnership.com.