5 Steps to Planning an Expansion/Renovation

If you are considering expanding your operations, it is probably so you can stay out in front of demand and meet the expectations of your internal and external customers. Though this is good news, it may also evoke feelings of dread, as there are hundreds, if not thousands of options to consider for practically any expansion, and all come with a price tag. Here are five steps to expanding your facilities that may help you out.

  • Never put a price tag on your new expansion before conducting a comprehensive planning and feasibility study.

The temptation is to sketch out a few thousand square feet on the back of a napkin and go to a contractor for a rough price. This approach will almost always result in a significantly underestimated project, along with the unpleasant task of requesting more funds at a later date. The planning process can be as simple as a few hours discussing goals, needs and constraints or it may involve several weeks of study, schematics and several contractor bid-estimates. The size, complexity and scope definition of the project should dictate this process. When you are finished, you will have a much better idea of the capital requirements (usually +/- 10%) and you will be well on your way to a preliminary design.

  • Let your goals drive the facility design and not the other way around.

Too often people become myopic when there is an existing site, facility or plan on the table, and instead of starting with their goals for expansion, they work to try to conform their goals to the existing facility or plan in front of them. Your first order of business needs to be setting those aside and nailing down your goals for the expansion independent of those constraints. We typically start with four categories – function, form, economy and time.

  • Get your facts straight early to avoid problems later on.

I’ve known and heard of companies who have spent hundreds of thousands, even millions of dollars on a site that was essentially inaccessible. Had they gotten the facts about the site (from a licensed surveyor or engineer) they could have saved every penny and thousands of hours of work. Factories are often designed with no master plan for future expansion. This can result in tear-out or excessive demolition when expansion is required, or poor and inefficient circulation along with safety issues from interactions between material handling and personnel traffic. Facts on code requirements such as wheel chair accessibility and fire protection are equally important, as is knowing when they do and do not apply.

  • Give your design priority over schedule and cost.

This is one you might expect coming from an engineer, but it is almost universally true, yet too often disregarded. Most of us are, by nature, better at dealing with the concrete (what we can see) than the conceptual (what we can imagine). Therefore, there is a tendency to rush to construction at the expense of the design process. While your cost and schedule are not unimportant, you should consider them as one time expenditures. The design, on the other hand, will determine the overall value of the investment for years to come. Often times items left out of the original design end up being added later anyway at a greater cost, with a lesser impact and an inevitable extension of the schedule. However, those important design features that never make it to construction are lost forever. The absence of those features could create incalculable restraints on the growth of your business, and adversely affect the safety, health and well-being of your associates.

  • Consider Design-Bid-Build.

The Design-Bid-Build process provides a balanced and price-competitive approach to construction. Unlike most Design-Build models, which eliminate the role of the Architect Engineer (A/E) as an intermediary, this approach enables the owner to obtain unbiased information from a licensed designer. Important is the fact that it allows time for the design to be completed before the job is competitively bid. This facilitates a true apples-to-apples bid and can result in savings of 10-20%, especially during lean years when construction bids are likely to be lower. Crucially, in this scenario, the design professional is working directly for you, (as opposed to the contractor), and will therefore be more attuned your interests. This is especially important when you need an advocate for ensuring that the contractor delivers the quality you paid for. Remember, contractors are licensed to perform construction, but only engineers and architects are licensed to do design.

Facility expansions are a critical investment in business growth, and can be an exciting and rewarding process when planned and executed professionally. Contact Segars Engineering about how we can bring your next expansion to a successful and rewarding completion.

– Dave Segars, PE, LEED AP BD+C