Merging of the Minds

When determining whether to combine existing facilities, administrators must resolve numerous specialized issues that will accompany the change.

Company mergers are commonplace, with headlines blasting the most recent news. In some ways mirroring the corporate world, colleges and universities are finding that merging two facilities into one often proves more cost-effective and beneficial for students, as well as researchers, especially in a university medical-center setting.

When mergers occur, major facilities issues arise. Determining how to best use existing facility assets spread over multiple buildings and campuses while reinforcing overall quality, efficiency and flexibility is critical.

Addressing research needs When a new building is not an option, one of the most immediate and complex tasks involves providing equitable research space for the groups that are being relocated or consolidated. While classroom and office space is important, research space requires more thought. This relates not only to the quality and quantity of space, but also to adjacency issues--since so much of today's medical research activity is multidisciplinary.

For example, say two researchers in a department are working on the same problem, the analysis of a particular cell. One may use electrophysiology techniques to analyze the cell in its live state; the other destroys the same cell to study it in its dead state. Close proximity would allow these researchers to accomplish their work more efficiently and cost-effectively.

Computer technology and the Internet make it possible to exchange ideas, data and information worldwide. Slides of the cell that a researcher produces in one location can be scanned into a computer, transmitted to a colleague in another country and discussed in real time. From a facility perspective, this translates into enormous investments in information services and upgrades in computer technology.

An initial part of the planning process should involve an assessment of existing conditions and building engineering systems prior to analyzing how to renovate existing facilities for new or changing research needs.

Infrastructure issues As the density of research in existing buildings increases, the amount and availability of emergency power becomes an issue. Today, there is more demand for both dedicated and emergency power for equipment such as freezers, incubators and some fume hoods. When relocating research groups to another building, it is important to evaluate the existing normal and emergency-power distribution systems to determine if these systems can accept the power demands of the new tenants. If these demands exceed existing electrical capacity, it may be necessary to replace or increase the capacity of existing generators or, at the very least, shed non-essential emergency loads. To do this, survey research spaces to assure that the minimum amount of equipment is connected to emergency outlets.

Evaluate the capacity of the air systems. In older facilities, the age of air-handling equipment and the condition of the ductwork affect the quality and quantity of supply and exhaust air. As new or specialized research requirements--such as biosafety level 3 labs or barrier rooms--are integrated, the amount of air required often increases.

Determine the ability of the existing air system to meet the demands of the new research. The system may be able to meet the new loads on paper, but that does not account for the possibility of a deterioration in system performance over time. There are ongoing maintenance tasks that can be pursued to ease these potential difficulties.

First, clearly establish the existing capacities of air-handling units. Next, clean all coils and components at the units, survey and clean all clogged reheat coils in individual spaces, and clean the ductwork. This will help the existing air-handling system operate at its designed capabilities. If analysis shows the new loads are greater than the existing system will bear, more expensive options, such as supplemental air-handling or replacement units, must be considered. If that is not possible, consider rethinking the proposed functional program or use of the building.

Making the transition Consider the following facility-oriented guidelines, which will help assure a smooth transition and provide relevant data that can be used to make sound decisions: -Know the condition of the existing building's engineering systems, as well as the age and quality of major mechanical equipment. If a facilities report does not exist, have a study done by a qualified engineering firm. -Do a comprehensive code analysis. Many existing high-rise fire codes require frequent changes. Devise a strategy to provide sprinklers throughout the facility over time, and work with local code officials to accomplish this within an approved and equitable time frame. -Update an existing facility database periodically. Make sure you have current floor plans with square footage information. For research space, show the location of major equipment, chases, existing casework and fume hoods. -Identify basic finish standards including flooring, ceiling, lighting, window treatments, furniture systems--even laboratory casework--for spaces. Finish standards should be used as a guide to establish a level of quality, durability and cost for projects. -Create modular or generic types of spaces, especially in research areas. The changing nature of research requires labs and support spaces to be as flexible as possible. Opt for shared equipment rooms to reduce the demand for customization within individual labs. -When renovating, try to convert to an equal or a less intensive need. Convert a lab to an office, not vice versa. The costly retrofitting to a more intensive use has the potential for overloading existing building air and electrical systems. -When developing budgets, understand the scope of the project before applying cost-per-square-foot multipliers. Hidden costs of decontaminating existing labs, asbestos removal, permit costs and delays, computer network connections, adequate supply and exhaust air, emergency power and retooling of existing casework often are found in laboratory and research spaces. -A rule of thumb with long-term equipment storage is that if it has not been used in five years, post a two-week warning notice and then toss it. -If at all possible, maintain temporary space that can be used for intermediate or swing space during construction within the facility or in a nearby leased location.

It is important to have weekly project meetings with all team members. Consistently monitor project costs and schedules, evaluate increases to the original scope of the project, and clearly prioritize project scope issues. Have a clear and easily updatable format to track project data and issues that require immediate attention or resolution.

Two renowned institutions located within 15 miles of each other in Philadelphia--Hahnemann University and the Medical College of Pennsylvania--consolidated under the aegis of the Allegheny University of the Health Sciences two years ago. Allegheny University is part of the Allegheny Health, Education and Research Foundation (AHERF) headquartered in Pittsburgh.

The resulting facilities program has focused on satisfying research and educational needs, and is targeted to achieve several goals: -Inventory the facilities and identify how spaces are currently used. -Align similar educational programs and research activities within the same building instead of maintaining separate facilities on different campuses. -Maximize the use of shared resources. -Identify areas for appropriate infrastructure upgrades, thereby enhancing the institution's ability to attract new students, staff and researchers.

As a result of the merger, Hahnemann University (now Allegheny's Center City Campus) and the Medical College of Pennsylvania (now Allegheny's Queen Lane Campus) have combined the first two years of medical education to the Queen Lane Campus. This freed existing academic space at the Center City Campus for an array of other degree programs serving the School of Public Health, School of Nursing, School of Humanities and Social Sciences--as well as student support services including the registrar, financial-aid and student-life offices.

The challenge was to determine how the Queen Lane facility, originally designed to accommodate 250 students, could be restructured to fit 500. The number of classrooms, teaching labs, lockers, mailboxes--as well as the size of existing lecture halls, cafeteria and administrative support spaces--were re-evaluated. It was clear that it was impossible to fit the class into the two 150-seat lecture halls without adding seats or additional space.

Use of the building was analyzed over a three-month period. Data on how the spaces were used during the course of the day were compiled and converted into a computer simulation that showed how students moved through the building, where they congregated and where the bottlenecks occurred between classes. Results pointed out several key factors: -Existing lecture space was limited. -An atrium space was underutilized. -The deans' offices were too remote from the students. -Cafeteria seating was insufficient. -Space for visiting faculty was lacking. -Administrative space devoted to student-life functions was cramped. -Library circulation and computer areas were crowded. -The bookstore created a bottleneck in circulation in and out of the building.

In response, decisions were made to convert two large meeting rooms into distance-learning classrooms that are linked to main lecture halls and other campuses, thereby allowing students to choose how they access standard course material. In addition, the library was reorganized to increase the number of on-line computer stations and the size of stack space for the core collection. An area that was being reserved for expansion was turned into study space and eight generic classrooms.

The bookstore was relocated to the underutilized atrium space, and an informal study area was created with tables and chairs. A vending space in the student lounge was converted into a food kiosk serving coffee, pre-made sandwiches and cold foods. In addition, the furniture in the student lounge was changed to tables and chairs that could double for eating or study. Storage rooms were converted into locker space.

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