Friday, June 28, 2013

Nine Essentials for Facility Planning

If you need to build a new facility, or renovate an existing one, early preparation can make the difference between glorious success and disastrous failure. What, precisely do you need? How will you make the case for it? How much will it cost? How can you avoid having to go back to the board for a budget increase?

Here are nine ways to reduce your costs, your risks and your stress, while enhancing the project. Many of these actions are not things that you’d know to consider if you don’t build regularly; some will very likely be overlooked even if you have a full-time facilities department:

  1. Make sure your strategic, program and business planning are current.
    Facilities are long-term investments. Before deciding whether and how to proceed, you should make sure you’ve done your best thinking about needs, resources and alternatives.
  2. Articulate the requirements in a detailed architectural program.
    Enormous benefits can be derived from describing a prospective facility in great detail very early in the process, in a document known as an architectural program. The architectural programs we create for clients run from 50 pages for a very simple building to over 100 for a complex one. In developing the program you will be faced with a broad range of decisions that you hadn’t thought about, and you’ll be able to think them through and develop consensus as needed, without urgent time pressure. If you wait until design is under way, you risk delay, unanticipated and hence hasty decisions, extra costs for change orders, and maybe even a design that does not fit your real needs.
  3. Use the architectural program to develop a firm project budget.
    A detailed architectural program provides a reliable basis for accurate budgeting of the project, so your board can know the full financial implications before incurring the costs of hiring an architect. And you won’t have to come back to them later for more money.
  4. Project and evaluate the full impact of the new facility on the operating budget.
    New buildings bring various kinds of new costs. To avoid nasty surprises later, it is important to identify them from the start and factor them into decision’making.
  5. Make sure that there is the appropriate expertise on staff to maintain control of the project.
    Someone must direct the project (focusing on fiduciary and programmatic decision making, and communications) and someone must manage it (working with and overseeing the contractor or construction manager, and evaluating requests for payment). Given the quite different skill sets required, these roles normally require two different people, though for smaller projects neither may need to be a full time job.
  6. Put in place unambiguous decision-making processes for the project.
    You will need to establish clear decision-making and communications protocols to avoid added costs, stress, and delays.
  7. Develop a contract that fully protects the client’s interests.
    Most often nonprofits use a standard contract developed by the American Institute of Architects. Unless it is heavily edited by an attorney experienced in construction, this contract will add significant costs and risks to your project. Handled properly, a customized and well-negotiated contract better serves the interests of both the nonprofit and the architect.
  8. Follow a thorough and methodical process in selecting an architect and negotiating contract details.
    A well-crafted process will result in a more suitable fit between the architect and client, a more successful design process, and a better building.
  9. Get the right help.
    Don’t assume that because you have an architect, developer or construction manager on your board, or a former contractor on staff, that you can get the most out of the above advice without outside help. Most organizations spend tens or hundreds of thousands of dollars more than they need to—on a small project—by going it on their own.
These steps will enable an organization to evaluate the feasibility of a project before committing to major expenses, and avoid pitfalls that could damage the finances not only of the project, but of the organization as a whole.

For more information on the facility planning process, see Critical Issues 13: Before you Hire an Architect, or contact me to discuss how Synthesis Partnership can help with any of the above suggestions.

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