By Sierra Simko, Architectural Project Leader at JHA Companies
So many business owners diligently plan every detail of their business from accounting, to hiring, to branding. They know their business better than anyone. When planning to expand the constructed environment that supports their company, they may know how many employees will use the space, the projected revenue associated with expansion, where offices are needed, how the space will dictate company culture, and maybe even desired curb appeal. They have determined financing, and they know when the project needs to be completed to meet their goals.
However, with all that in mind, the company’s timeline for the need for increased space might not line up with the building project timeline. Expanding space can be an intricate process all its own.
When should you contact an engineer or architect?
The best guide for this intricate process is an engineer or architect, and it’s best to bring them in from the start. As soon as you recognize growth within your company that incites a need for change in your space, reach out to a design professional. Concept development and site feasibility (even a site you already own or operate from) can be just as important as budget or timeline. A few questions to ask along the way include: What does your project truly entail? Are you asking the right questions (the same questions a design professional might ask)? Do you have a good foundation for your project? Ideally, concept development and site feasibility should be incorporated into the long-term planning of your company’s growth.
A commercial building project is a bit like planning a wedding. Are you someone who is highly organized and can identify and coordinate the band, lighting, venue, ceremony, flowers, food, cake, drinks, favors, guest list, hotels, schedule, photos, and payment? Maybe you hired a wedding planner to make everything come together. Regardless of whether it is a small, simple backyard wedding or an extravagant weekend event, there are still many things to consider. Having the right understanding of how you will accomplish your goals will make for a smoother process and help you achieve the end product you envision.
In a world where building materials, techniques, and products are constantly advancing, there are a multitude of resources and options at the tip of any developer’s fingers. We see so many clients exploring options different than the stick-built construction of 50 years ago, such as modular or prefabricated steel buildings. While these options can be amazing choices to reduce labor cost and schedule, it is important to remember there is much more to a building project than just the erected structure. Even choosing to expand an existing building comes with its own select difficulties.
Some big-ticket items that come up during design development are:
- Fire protection. Perhaps you are a camp director that plans on expanding bunks. Assume that any sleeping space will require sprinklers. Are you considering adding an oven to your office kitchenette? That will require a commercial hood with suppression system. Maybe you have a mixed-use building that will require fire walls or barriers.
- Accessibility. The Americans with Disabilities Act requires that renovated spaces meet their criteria, as well as proposed buildings. This results in unanticipated costs by way of brail signage adjacent to doorways, ramps, or elevators to access different levels, areas of refuge in stairwells in case of emergencies, and additional floor clearance space for turning around or accessing space, to name a few.
- Energy efficiency compliance. With new codes comes new insulation requirements. As a design consultant, we often receive contractor questions regarding insulation. Proposed R Values for walls, ceilings, and slabs may seem greater than that of a project built 20 years ago, and that is because they are. This may result in a more expensive wall assembly, but rest assured, you will see savings in the heating and conditioning of your space.
- Utility availability and sufficiency. Are you planning on expanding your existing building or perhaps adding an additional building to your property? Most people are aware that when constructing a new building, utilities need to be planned for, but it is also important to remember that receiving approvals from your existing utility providers may be necessary. You may even need to expand your current utilities, such as an existing septic system to accommodate the increased flow.
- Stormwater management requirements. Because a building, as well as paving for a driveway or parking lot, is considered impervious to stormwater, your local authorities will likely require that you manage the increased water runoff. This can add expense and even square footage to your project. Additionally, if the earth disturbance associated with a project exceeds one acre in size, an NPDES or SWPPP permit will be required from the Environmental Protection agency, which may also extend your timeline.
- Site feasibility. Where is your project located? Does your local municipality have zoning, and does it allow for your use? An attorney might be needed to assist you through a zoning hearing. Are there wetlands or endangered species present? Is it in a floodplain? Additional (expensive) studies might be necessary. Is access onto a state road required or even existing? You may be required to obtain an additional permit for a driveway. What is the existing property like? Will you need a lot of grading or fill and cut to meet ADA requirements?
Other items to identify early on is what you want the process to look like. Is bidding required by your financial backer or will it be more cost-effective to work with a design/build contractor? How much involvement do you want to have? Do you have the time to be your own “wedding planner”? Who are the reviewing agencies and how long does each of the facets of design take?
Understanding the pieces of the puzzle, as well as how and even more importantly when they come together, will define your budget, timeline, and ultimately the feasibility of your dream.
Sierra earned her Bachelor of Architecture from the Tyler School of Art at Temple University and is working towards her professional registration. She has been a part of the JHA team since 2012. When she isn’t merging the gap between civil and building design, she spends her time cooking elaborate meals, hosting board game nights, and traveling with her husband, Steve and toddler, Emery.