Selected Highlights of the Labs21 2010 Annual Conference


Life Science Facilities Adaptive Reuse: A Design-Build Approach

Jason Rifkin, Equilibrium
Patrick Goetz, JennErik Engineering


One of the core components of sustainability, which often gets lost in the discussion, is that of using less. We challenge the notion of creating new laboratory space when adaptive reuse of existing facilities may provide for a more cost-effective, quicker, and less energy-intensive solution to space needs. A design-build approach to adaptive reuse couples the contractor's knowledge of construction feasibility with the design team's input and the owner's requirements. In this model, speed to delivery is achieved via open communications and a collaborative work environment.

Retrofitting existing facilities to meet laboratory uses is not as challenging as some might think. When you stop to analyze the laboratory users in the market for laboratory space, there are a far greater number of smaller research and development companies, with basic research requirements and pilot scale production needs, than there are larger institutional users. These smaller firms are ideal candidates for adaptively reused spaces, such as office, flex, or warehouse facilities, or even existing research facilities that have met the end of their useful life.

The temporal aspect of this is relatively simple to comprehend, when a typical two-year timeframe to plan and build and fit out a new structure is compared to nine to 12 months to plan and renovate an existing facility. Many steps are also alleviated, such as master plan amendments, site plan approvals, the legal aspects of land transfer, site work, and the construction of the core building itself.

image 1
Typical Flex/R&D Facility Ideal for Creating Laboratory Space via Adaptive Reuse

In our particular market, landlords that once developed speculative laboratories with 100 percent outside air and myriad bells and whistles are now scaling back their product offerings to suit the needs of smaller and more versatile tenants. This means that as vacancy rates increase on various types of non-life science facilities, those facilities may be converted to laboratory uses with greater ease as the traditional overwhelming facility infrastructure is removed. In addition, we have seen "Class A" laboratory space converted to more simplistic uses, resulting in greatly reduced utility costs. This is not only being demanded by the tenants, who typically pay the utility bills in a triple-net lease, but it has become a huge selling point for landlords trying to lease laboratory space.

Design-build examples of the retrofit and adaptive reuse examples are conversion of "single-pass" air to recirculating systems, the removal of superfluous chemical fume hoods, adding variable frequency drives to existing air handler systems, and the conversion of flex space and light-manufacturing facilities into life science facilities. With new construction rates for life science facilities quoted at $400 to $500 per square foot, a $150 per square foot shell building with another $150 per square foot of fit-out costs sounds like a better deal, with the added benefit of utilizing what would have otherwise been an empty building.

The keys to conservation are to maintain as much of the existing building systems as possible, thus resulting in less waste and more reuse. We have found that these same principles often lead to increased energy efficiency as well. In conclusion, we have found that a design-build approach to adaptive reuse for laboratories results in a less expensive, more marketable facility with reduced operating expenses, delivered far quicker than a typical new building.


Jason Rifkin has worked in the life science industry for the past 17 years and brings extensive experience in the biotechnology and life science sector previously working for Celera Genomics as a quality control supervisor and at NeuralStem as a researcher and laboratory manager. Mr. Rifkin has worked with Turner Construction Company as a life sciences construction market consultant and for Scheer Partners as a senior vice president in charge of development and construction of life science facilities.

Mr. Rifkin holds a Bachelor of Science in biology from the University of Maryland at Baltimore County, a Masters of Science in neurobiology from Montana State University, and a Masters of Business Administration from the University of Baltimore.

Patrick Goetz has 22 years of experience in the life sciences industry where he has prepared master plans, energy analyses, and contract documents, and estimated and provided construction, commissioning, and project management services for single buildings as well as campus facilities. His projects have ranged from research and development to manufacturing facilities for research, biotechnology, and pharmaceutical clients. His experience includes both the design and design-build management for mechanical, electrical, and plumbing systems for multiple clean room and biosafety level 3 facilities.