Creating A Design That’s Built To Last

To increase their building’s lifespan during construction, facility managers need to work closely with design teams.

By Melissa Plaskonos
From the October 2022 Issue

Building longevity is rarely the primary goal of design and construction teams. Instead, the focus is on completing a project for the occupants’ near-term needs, which are typically looked at through a short, five-year lens. However, as climate change worsens and building resiliency becomes top-of-mind for owners and investors, they need a more proactive approach to development.

Why isn’t longevity at the forefront of planning when buildings are meant to last at least 30 years, and ideally more than 50 years? And how can we get teams to consider the long-term impacts of design decisions on the performance, maintenance, and future renovations of these buildings?

building design
Engineer and architect discussing about blueprint layout design of electricity plan before construction

While there are no simple answers to these questions, it is vital that facility managers are involved at the beginning of the design for any project impacting their buildings—whether it’s new construction, a renovation, or a tenant improvement project. Facility management involvement from the beginning can save valuable time and resources, ultimately reducing maintenance costs, lengthening the building’s lifespan, strengthening its resiliency rating, and improving tenant experience.

Being Heard

Facility managers should be considered part of the design and construction team from the start, connecting with the project management team early to ensure involvement at every phase. Sometimes developers and land/building owners focus involvement in design on the end users of the facility, such as a life science company who will be occupying the space. It’s important that the facilities team is represented at design meetings and reviews all documents and submittals throughout the project. The goal here is to ensure compliance with the design and standards of the FM.

Involving facilities in the process will pay off in the long run. Making changes to the design of a construction project gets more and more expensive as the design and ultimately the on-site construction progresses. The schedule impact also worsens as time passes. By being a part of the team early on, any changes can be worked out sooner.  Whether it’s one person allotting a few hours a week or a full-time staff member, the position will prove invaluable for many years after project completion.

Sustainability and Practicality

With the push toward sustainable buildings, many projects are striving for LEED, WELL, or FitWel ratings. It is essential for facilities teams to review these ratings and provide their input to the design team, because they reflect not only how a building is constructed, but how it is operated to maintain these standards. There are often lingering, and potentially detrimental, impacts the design team should know about before spending valuable time and resources on green products and materials.

The bottom line—FMs bring deep insight and a practical perspective to construction projects. While it may be easy to get hung up on immediate, short-term project needs, the involvement of facility management from day one can help avoid pricey pitfalls and prolong the lifespan of the building.

That’s not to discourage anyone from building sustainably, especially as materials choices are expanding, but it always helps to have someone with practical knowledge to contribute to the conversation. For example, if a design team wants to use very low-flow toilets to achieve a water savings target on the LEED rating, the FM would likely know that these units can be quite challenging to operate, may not flush thoroughly, and are expensive to maintain. The risk of not having that information before installing this type of equipment is not only an increase in maintenance costs and the need to hire additional staff, but also of toilets not functioning properly and unhappy tenants dealing with unsanitary restroom conditions.

The same can be said for solar panels and fuel cells. These high-demand, energy- efficient options can boost a LEED rating, but they also need to be monitored, staffed, and maintained, which can get especially pricey after the service contract has expired.

Think Long Term

To bring about real change, more attention needs to be paid to the future of new facilities and how they will wear or be replaced in the years ahead. When choosing fixtures, furniture, and other features, FMs should work closely with design teams to consider potential upkeep and replacement issues. For example, in San Diego, many projects incorporate elaborate outdoor meeting areas. Architects love to choose beautiful wood furniture and pergolas. But these woods often require frequent treatments and re-staining to maintain their aesthetics, which can strain maintenance resources. Additionally, it’s important to plan ahead for the life cycle costs of utilities like gas, water, and electricity, as equipment will typically be less efficient over time, increasing the demand on utilities.

With building and design trends that continue to cycle every 15-20 years, and in order to change with the times, the bones of the building should be classic and well-built so that trend-driven projects don’t become needlessly complicated and expensive.

MEP (mechanical, electrical, and plumbing) systems should also be built with the assumption of change in the future. Technical and engineering advancements are inevitable, and these spaces need to be adaptable. This could mean allowing for extra space beyond what is currently required for these systems—either maximizing ceiling space within the building or in an external equipment yard.

Be Flexible

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With the global supply chain proving volatile and unpredictable, FMs and design teams must consider alternative choices to finishes and building systems. It helps to have a pivot point when replacement parts become unavailable or are discontinued. Also, knowing that nothing lasts forever, consider using manufacturers that stand behind their products for a long time, without quickly retiring older versions and phasing out replacement production. Choosing high-quality, highly-rated building equipment can lead to better, longer performance—and ultimately lower costs and reduce waste—as equipment ages.

Design Standards And Guidelines

From the start, clear design standards and guidelines should be established. Fully customizable, these guidelines can include everything from building management specifications to exterior paint color. This will help companies have a standard quality and look and feel from building to building. It will assist maintenance teams by having standards for attic stock, allowing for better procurement practices, storage, and reaction times to replacement needs. As an added bonus, having standards set early on also helps with accurate cost estimates before the project starts, which is integral for budget approvals and contingencies.

The bottom line—FMs bring deep insight and a practical perspective to construction projects. While it may be easy to get hung up on immediate, short-term project needs, the involvement of facility management from day one can help avoid pricey pitfalls and prolong the lifespan of the building.

Plaskonos is the Vice President of Project Management Advisors, Inc. She has over 20 years of experience managing real estate development projects with a background in engineering and management. Plaskonos is based in San Diego, CA.

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