Volume III: Structures for Science

People & Process

When planning a new science facility, even a single classroom or laboratory, the people involved and the process of creating the building are crucial to the project's success. Communication, clear goals, and strategic planning are integral to the process, and grow out of the collaboration and willingness of those involved in the project. In coming together to wrestle with the why and the how of the new structures and spaces for undergraduate programs in science, mathematics, and engineering, your community will both shape and be shaped by debates and discussions about matters of broad and mutual concern.

The Planners

The Phases of Planning

The Facility Program

The facility program is a translation of vision, curriculum, and pedagogy into facility needs. It includes such documents as an executive summary, a space summary, the building planning criteria, the room design criteria, room diagrams and adjacency diagrams. In defining the program, you will need to articulate, in the abstract, all the spaces that will be needed in the future, for what purposes they will be used, how they will be used, and by whom. Imagination, flexibility, and creativity help to create a plan that is not limited to just the needs of today. During the process of developing the facility program it will be wise to do some trial schedules of classes and activities that will utilize the space. The information drawn from this program indicates whether or not a feasibility study is needed; it might also be used by a cost consultant to provide a relatively accurate projection of construction costs.

Uses and Cautions

The importance of the facility program cannot be overstated because it becomes the basis upon which all subsequent design work is based. Faculty should complete the design criteria sheets as thoroughly as possible, using consistent language to communicate departmental needs to the architect and lab designer. Encountering resistance from faculty and staff is not uncommon during the process of defining the program. The project shepherd is responsible for making sure that people fill out the design criteria sheets even if this means that s/he has to aggressively seek this information out. It is not in the best interest of the whole project if only the ideas of a few people are utilized, as they might not address all of the uses of the building.

The Feasibility Study

Based on the information gathered in defining the program, you may have a difficult decision: to renovate, to build an addition, or to build a new building. If this is the case, a feasibility study is necessary. The intent of the study is to provide information such that a cost consultant can generate a summary of the materials and systems that are planned for the new and renovated spaces. The feasibility study presents the proposed renovations and/or addition(s) as well as the proposed phasing of the construction for the addition(s) and/or renovations. There are many components to the feasibility study and they often include:

  • an executive summary
  • a building analysis
  • a program summary
  • a project description
  • a construction phasing
  • a preliminary schedule
  • a cost estimate
  • a code and zoning analysis
  • appendices

In the feasibility study, you will make both a quantitative and a qualitative analysis of the existing spaces. The following characteristics should be considered: spirit and soul, "highest and the best," life span of the HVAC systems, capacity for expansion, adaptability, presence of vibration, floor-to-floor height, quality of mechanical space, and building style and age. When taking into account these ideas you might determine that there is too much attachment to the old structure to tear it down. Even if this is the case, the community needs to determine if the qualitative environment is such that renovations would not hurt the school. When renovating people need to think about codes, program disruptions and hidden costs which they might not have thought of otherwise. There are many things to be aware of if you are going through with a feasibility study, and it is important to approach this undertaking with an open mind, and to have an explicit schedule and agenda by which to accomplish the task. At each step in the process of additions and renovations, you must reevaluate and be willing to adjust your expectations of the project accordingly.

Design Documents

Developing design documents begins once the facility program and the feasibility study (if needed) is complete. There are three phases to this process: schematic design phase, the design development phase, and the phase in which the construction documents are created.

Schematic Design

Schematics give the preliminary floor plans and locate the various spaces and their approximate sizes in accordance with the adjacencies you have established in defining the facility program. There are many issues that are covered in the schematic design phase, including: laboratories, classrooms, support spaces, offices, animal facilities, common spaces, and the infrastructure. When looking at the schematics think about how the designs fit with the teaching, learning, and research style that represents your program.

During the schematic design phase, and later with detailed drawings, faculty members and all other building users must continue to be involved. The project shepherd and project manager should have a formal mechanism to gain reactions regularly from all members of the community. Through this phase, the architects work with the project shepherd and project manager, the project team, and the executive committee to discuss the design approach and potential alternatives. There must be approval from each of these sources before the project moves into the next design phase. The results of the schematic design phase are a set of design drawings, specifications outline, and a cost-estimate.

Design Development

In the design development phase the architect designs in detail the spaces and structure of the building. The architect and engineers develop in greater detail the project specification and a cost estimate. It is critical during this phase that the project manager and project shepherd get faculty to check the design drawings very carefully. The final products of the design development phase are the detailed design drawings, draft specification, and cost estimates.

Construction Documents

Following the approval of the design development phase by the project team and executive committee, the architect and engineers complete construction documents. These documents include detailed specifications describing all materials, quality of construction, samples, and testing requirements. Although the construction documents become increasingly more difficult for the faculty and staff to read, it is still the responsibility of the project manager and project shepherd to make sure that the plans meet the expectations of those who will be utilizing the space.

Important Questions

Some important questions to ask when creating a facility program include:

How many seminar/common rooms and student study rooms do we need?

Would a centralized commons room and/or centralized study save space?

Can we use open spaces for communication and informal study without necessarily having to build lots of small, specific spaces?

What do we anticipate will be our computer needs for the next 10-15 years, and how are our needs integrated with institution-wide planning?

Where should hardware be located?

How much sharing of space and equipment makes sense?

How can this be done?

Some important questions to ask when visiting your local site while creating a facility program include:

How many students and faculty have used this space in recent years?

Did these students and faculty use the space for its intended purpose, or for some other purpose?

Can this space be used for more than one function?

Have typical class/lab enrollments changed to make this space too small or too large?

Do emerging programs require different kinds of spaces?

What is it that "works" in this space?

What is it that does not work in this space?

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The Planners

Project Kaleidoscope suggests that there should be key individuals and committees that will act as the main players in the planning process. Identifying and assembling the people that are necessary for these roles can be difficult, but is essential to the overall success of the project. The spheres of influence and responsibilities of persons in these leadership roles often overlap, which makes effective communication an important factor to consider when selecting who will fill each of these roles.

Key Individuals

Project Shepherd

The project shepherd typically is a faculty member from one of the departments which will be housed in the new structure. S/he is an indispensable facet of the project and therefore should possess leadership skills, a knowledge of construction and planning, and effective listening skills in order to best communicate the needs and wishes of the people that s/he represents. The project shepherd is also responsible for ensuring that the space works for the people who will utilize it. This faculty member is responsible for facilitating communication between and among all committees and individuals involved in the planning. In representing the viewpoints, needs, and educational goals of faculty colleagues, s/he must be open to debate and disagreements and understand how to challenge individuals and departments to ask questions in a context of mutual respect and shared commitments. Ideally, the project shepherd should have released time at critical stages in the planning and construction process.

Project Manager

The project manager usually is a representative from the facilities office, a consulting firm, or an architectural firm, and is often selected prior to or immediately after the selection of an architect. This person offers the technical perspective needed in order to help implement the renovations. The project manager is responsible for overseeing the project scope, budget, and schedule, and to assure that all these are met within the parameters as defined by the program and established by the institution in making the decision to undertake the project.

Project Committees

Building Users Committee

This committee ideally includes representatives from the faculty, staff (including a custodian), and students of a particular institution. The role of this group of individuals is to "start the ball rolling" after the school makes a commitment to go ahead with the renovation or building project. The people sitting on this committee discuss what they want to see in the building that is specific to the needs of that particular campus. It is important that all of the groups that will use the space are represented so that the planners can best work to incorporate the suggestions that are offered. The project shepherd sits on this committee and reports back to other committees what is discussed during meetings.

Project Team

This team of people ideally consists of a core of representatives from appropriate departments and administrative offices, and from the design, engineering, and management firms engaged for the project. This committee is led by the project shepherd and/or project manager. They have authority to make decisions regarding the design and construction of the spaces, and have the responsibility to bring the community into agreement on alternate design possibilities. These people try to solve the various problems that inevitably come up during the various stages of the process. This team is also responsible for keeping communication open between other leadership groups and individual faculty and administrators with relevant areas of interest and experience.

Executive Committee

This committee typically includes the president, and vice presidents for academic affairs, finance, and development, or their representatives. Also included in this group is the project shepherd, the administrative leader, and a representative of the project team. This group is the link to the regents and is responsible for making sure that the project is in line with the educational missions and goals of the institution, that the monetary resources are in place, and that fund-raising efforts are in line with the planning and construction schedule.

Special Subcommittees

These groups are set up, as necessary, in order to tackle specific issues that come up as the project develops. They are also created in order to capitalize on local experience and expertise. The project manager and/or project shepherd, depending on the managerial policies set for the project, will attend these meetings and serve as an institutional representative and as a conduit of information back to the leadership committees.

Design Professionals

Design professionals include the architect, lab designer and other professionals who will be involved in the design and construction of your science and mathematics facilities. The project committees are responsible for making this selection and it is crucial that they take time and care when determining who to use for the design and construction of the project.

Important Questions

Questions that the key individuals and project committee should be considering throughout the project include:

Are the voices of all faculty members included in the decision making process? If not, how can they be brought into the discussion?

Are the ideas that students offer incorporated into the various planning stages?

Are the ideas that students offer incorporated into the various planning stages?

Are the vision goals and mission statement of the college still being adhered as the project continues?

Is the project budget in adherence with the budget as set by the governing board or senior administration?

Are the non-science faculty informed about the project?

If not, how can this information be distributed so that the whole community is aware of the project?

Some questions to consider asking design professionals when selecting them:

How will you approach our project?

Who would be assigned to this project on a day-to-day basis, provide overall management during the construction process, etc.?

How do you manage schedule and costs during design and construction?

What similar projects have you recently completed, and who are the contact persons on those projects?

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The Phases of Planning