The key is remaining flexible enough in your early planning to absorb the challenges and turn them into positive aspects for your project. By following these first two steps, you will be better positioned for long term success on your project when challenges arise and we all know they will!
Step One: The Feasibility Study
There are a number of issues to consider when determining the feasibility of a project: program requirements, equipment and system requirements, economic conditions, operational constraints, functional locations, financial resources and various code and ADA compliances.
A feasibility study of the program requirements will typically provide the necessary information to determine the equipment and system requirements, which will then lead to real estate and financial requirements. If finances are in place and fixed, then program requirements can be outlined so that the greatest needs are addressed first with other needs being outlined in descending order of importance.
There are two objectives with program requirements; land and improvements — office buildings, training stations or apparatus bays. How much land is required and will it function with the building? Having a set of building plans drawn without having both the program requirements and the land identified sounds proactive; however the approach may not work.
A number of station sites are donated or gifted at discounts to fire and EMS stations with good intent. However, the land may not function with all the program requirements. Having a team member that gathers information specific to a particular site will assist greatly in the planning process for land use, zoning, functional use and civil engineering. Your team partner should be qualified to assist with both the design, as well as the construction of the new facility for the most efficient outcome.
The program feasibility should next address the financial considerations. A budget analysis is important when working with a new project. Reviewing program elements through basic design information and providing a budget estimate will determine the scope of the project and costs that are anticipated. If costs outweigh the desired scope, then modifying the design may be the only way to get the project in budget. The two criteria to judge feasibility are cost required and the benefits those costs will provide. Accurately weighing the costs versus the project scope allows for a greater understanding of the benefit the facility will provide for the community it is to serve.
Both architectural and engineering codes and ADA compliance issues should be reviewed as well during this step. A basic understanding of the operation and functional elements to be included will generally identify potential challenges moving forward. A good example for site evaluation is the cost of a sprinkler system. Since most fire stations are mandated to install sprinkler systems, having public water access or a well system can have a significant impact on the project cost. The type of system is equally important especially if there are sleeping quarters to be incorporated in the program analysis.
Step Two: The Conceptual Phase
This is an opportunity for architects and engineers to incorporate creative talents with design elements and building components from what was learned in the Feasibility Study. It is an opportunity to create a work of art specific to your project in which the concepts and ideas involved in the work take precedence over traditional aesthetic and material concerns. The intent or concept is the most important aspect of this step in the process. This also provides an opportunity for everyone to provide input to desires of the station and will prepare station leaders for questions moving forward through the process.
Although there are basic necessities with site considerations, the layout of the building in relation to the topography and directional positioning for environmental and energy utilization are the most important early factors. Utilities, the number of parking spaces, site set backs, buffers and curb cut locations should all have been identified in the feasibility study therefore the execution of the layout is more of a technical exercise than the creative aspects of the building itself. Storm water management and Leadership in Environmental and Energy Design (LEED) aspects require the most calculations and should be identified early in the process to maximize benefits.
The conceptual phase for design of the building allows the designer to provide creativity to both exterior and interior applications. The exterior should create individuality for the public to identify clearly as a fire or EMS station and support past, current or future design considerations of the community. The interior will require a very thorough understanding of the functionality of the station and staff. Although every fire and EMS station has program similarities, the functionality of each station is as unique as the station itself.
These individual characteristic considerations should be based on a priority system with a very clear understanding of today as well as tomorrow. It’s not every year, or five years for that matter, that you have the opportunity to build a new fire or EMS station. Therefore funds, whether acquired through a grant, obtained through a referendum or through a loan, should be utilized in the most economical manner as to present the most long term benefit to the community the stations serves.
Take time to manage the process to the project’s advantage and minimize financial exposure along the way. Square footage adjustments and finish selections have a great deal of impact on the overall budget, so allow a partner that understands these impacts to participate from the beginning. It is much more efficient and economical to draw lines on paper and have options in the beginning as opposed to reworking changes in the field that could contain unforeseen costs impacts late in the project. At the completion of the Conceptual Phase the majority of costs should be identified in detail, most codes issues addressed, ADA and life safety issues brought into compliance and the construction schedule established.
After these two steps have been completed, your project is now ready to move ahead in a very quick and efficient manner. The final construction drawings can be started, contract pricing can be established with final selections, permitting can begin and scheduling can be finalized. Changes and issues will always be part of the overall process and will continue through the end of the project, but following these first two steps will help to minimize the changes and issues along the way. These steps will also help you to stay within the project’s established budget and get your new station completed in a shorter time frame. Select a team that is willing to perform and assist with these steps through education, experience and execution.