What Industrial Users Should Think About While Planning to Expand

Tiffany Barker

Tiffany Barker, a Certified Professional Engineer and Crain’s Chicago 2023 Notable Woman in STEM, uses her background in preconstruction management to explain what users should focus on when scouting potential spaces or renovating existing ones.

When industrial manufacturers are looking to expand their business by purchasing an existing building that they will be customizing to fit their needs, what should they be thinking about from a technical engineering perspective when scouting out buildings?

You will need to understand your business’s own specific needs first to get started and ensure success. As design-builders, we help our clients by asking curious questions about their business operations, which is one of ARCO’s core values, and their intended program for the space to assist in this process. We will need to figure out what is working, where are there pain points that could be resolved in your next space, how does your current space flow, and more. These are the types of overarching project goals that we can help define with input from your team.

You will also need to go into more technical details. Some examples from a structural perspective include clearly outlining your manufacturing needs and vetting out buildings that have a foundation to support your needs. One of your top priorities should be understanding each potential building’s power capacity. Ask questions like, “Is the space conditioned?” or “Does the end user plan on conditioning the space?” If so, have they figured in the cost of RTUs, how many units are needed, and how big they are? The follow-up question would be, “Is the space insulated?” All these questions need to be considered against their associated costs to understand if the necessary upgrades are even worth the investment.

It’s crucial that the infrastructure is compatible with the manufacturer and their operations. How can you ensure the building has enough power and other resources to adequately hold their business?

Getting a design-build contractor on board early is a game-changer. It speeds up things like power supply upgrades, which can take a while and involve cost prohibitive items like switchgear. Being proactive like this makes sure the customer is staying ahead of lead times, on schedule, and your project runs smoothly without any unexpected issues.

It’s crucial to address any issues in an organized manner and determine needs upfront to avoid potential problems. When we work with our design team, especially with design-build, we talk about and prioritize what you need and develop a due diligence report that breaks down assets that you are considering for leasing or purchasing. This helps to uncover red flags more quickly and gives you timely information to make decisions from. To make things clearer, I help create a detailed list of project criteria, almost like a menu, and show the client their top three properties, evaluating each one based on their set requirements. Some things I consider include:  

  • Occupancy and Construction Type Requirements and Any Code Issues
    • You should also account for the historical context of the building. For existing structures, it’s important to understand when and why it was originally built. This perspective is important to meet modern safety standards. For example, older buildings often lack safe roof access methods, such as the outdated 40-foot ladder. In these cases, you may need to remove the old access system and install a new one to comply with current safety regulations.
    • Building Envelope Energy Analysis
    • Life Safety Concerns
  • Structural Requirements and Any Required Upgrades
    • If you find a building that doesn’t support holding a heavy crane that you need, then you’ll need to plan for the costs surrounding an updated or added foundation.
  • Overall Power and Natural Gas Capacity Needs
  • Requirements for Domestic Water Supply and Sanitary/Storm Sewer
  • Existing HVAC System

This comparison process makes it simple to identify shortcomings in each property and estimate the costs of meeting the client’s expectations, prior to executing a lease or purchasing a building. This approach ensures that when we make decisions, we have a lot of information to work with, unlike situations where a building is already bought without a thorough assessment.

From an industrial and manufacturing perspective, what are the benefits of going the design-build route?

In the world of traditional design, bid-build, or plan-and-spec contractors, clients usually start by setting a budget. Then, architects create plans within that budget, which the client pays for. The contractor, in this setup, takes no responsibility for the design. They simply price exactly what’s on the plans without checking if it’s actually functional. The decision-making strictly adheres to what’s specified in the drawings and the customer takes all the financial risk.

On the flip side, our approach with industrial and manufacturing clients is quite different. For example, our engineering team quickly gives us all the details we need. When the client provides building height and site specifications, we can break down foundation needs, infrastructure requirements, steel requirements, and provide MEP drawings to receive finite pricing from the submarket. This helps us create a precise and detailed cost estimate, removing any uncertainties, prior to the client moving forward on an asset, thus shifting all the risk to ARCO.

This method stands apart from the usual design-bid-build scenario. In a design-build approach, we take on the risk by designing upfront and giving a fixed dollar amount to the client. We commit to staying within or potentially under that budget. This creates a win-win situation. We have more control over the design process, ensuring it aligns with the agreed budget. Unlike scenarios with unclear responsibilities, our method encourages collaboration and satisfaction, sparing the client from unexpected issues and frustrations. It’s about making the whole process enjoyable, addressing concerns, and ultimately delivering value to the client.

What advice would you give when narrowing down potential spaces?

Dealing with power requirements, especially when it takes a lot of time to bring in more power and involves the costs of switchgear, needs careful thinking. Getting a design-build contractor involved early is a smart move. In a recent project, even before we had the electrical design completed and an electrical subcontractor on board, ARCO procured the generator and switchgear direct. This forward-thinking approach made our timeline smoother. We met our tight deadlines without unnecessary delays in checking contractors, writing contracts, getting approvals, and making purchases. It’s all about making the timeline shorter and more efficient.

It’s crucial to get more details about the site. Check things like the number of dock positions, possible spots for future ones, the condition of drive-in doors, etc. Make sure the dock package works well and figure out how old it is. When you’re thinking of buying or renting a building, keep your needs in mind. Stay away from building aspects that are nice to have but you won’t necessarily use—focus on what you really need to avoid unnecessary costs.


Questions on any of ARCO/Murray’s latest industrial renovation projects across the country? Get in touch today.

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