The economics of shared facilities

CarolinaFireJournal - By Ken Newell
01/10/2013 -

Have you recently been the victim of “Station Sticker-Shock?” That is, are the eyebrow-raising projected construction costs for your upcoming building project more than your department’s budget can afford? In these times of escalating construction costs and diminishing building budgets, the answer to this question becomes very, very important. As one potential solution to this problem, let’s consider how the option of multiple facility users may be the key to making your construction dreams a reality.


Wrightsville Beach, N.C. Public Safety Facility — Fire and Police

This Land is My Land, This Land is Your Land

Whether you represent fire, rescue, EMS or all of the above, few departments are overly enthusiastic about having another department join them as a “roommate.” However, in reality, many departments have found that by deciding to find ways to share a facility, and enlisting other users to join them in their project, they have been able to greatly reduce their capital expenditures and stretch their departmental budgets. Further, the joint-use of a public safety facility can actually be designed so that it isn’t nearly as unappealing as it may sound.

In recent years, designers and contractors nationwide have actually witnessed an increase in the demand for joint-use facilities, and there are many examples of how this concept has been successfully implemented. Fire departments have provided additional facilities for EMS departments, and vice-versa. Fire/rescue departments have provided additional facilities for law enforcement, parks and recreation and even city public works departments.

Don’t Park in My Space!

Having multiple users (or departments) housed under one roof does not necessarily mean that they have to share driveways, parking areas or even entrances. Rather, large-scale concerns such as these, and even smaller items like heating and air conditioning systems, can be separated for each facility user group. And from a security standpoint, quite often shared facilities are designed so that there are no interior means of access from one department to the other.

However, the more circulation and support areas that can be shared, the more you are likely to save on costs — keeping in mind that having no shared space whatsoever is always a possibility.

Splitting the Bill Effectively

Fire Station No. 11 — Asheville, N.C. — Fire/Rescue and Police Substation (at side)

So, does bringing another group under the same roof truly save your department money? Fortunately, there are five key ways this can happen:

Since most departments have separate capital improvement budgets, combining the funds from two budgets will obviously allow for more “construction” than two completely separate projects.

If the additional end-user adds substantial space to the facility for their needs, an Economy of Scale applies. That is, the more space you build, the less you will pay per square foot. For example, your department plans to build 10,000 SF to accommodate your current and immediate-future needs. You enlist the town’s police department who needs a 5,000 SF substation at this location. The unit cost of 10,000 SF may be $150/SF. But, the unit cost of 15,000 SF may only be $140/SF. In this example, you have just saved $100,000 on YOUR 10,000 SF simply because you’ve added a facility partner and the building size has grown.

Town of Apex Public Safety Facility — Fire, EMS and Police Substation

Your agreement with the partnering department may include a prorated share of utility and maintenance costs. And with rising energy costs, saving on monthly utilities is a low-hassle way to protect your budget.

It’s also possible to save money on programmed spaces and technologies by avoiding duplication. Parking spaces, public toilets, training/community rooms, corridors, janitorial storage, physical training, closets and kitchens are all examples of spaces that can be shared with the right partnering department. On the technology front, phone systems, computer networks, servers, copiers, printers, etc., are all critical infrastructure items that have the potential to be shared.

Fire Station No. 2 — Kings Mountain, N.C. — Fire and Police Substation (at rear)

Providing facilities for another department with a built-in, expiring time limit may provide you with the growth space you will need in the future, at today’s construction market prices. For example, if the city’s public works department needs space to park vehicles until they build their new facility in four or five years, it may coordinate very well with your plans to temporarily accommodate their equipment in an additional bay — a bay that your department could then grow into in that same four or five years. When that day arrives, your only cost will be the additional piece of apparatus, rather than more design and construction costs!

Off the Drafting Table, Into Reality

South Point Volunteer Fire Dept. — Belmont, N.C. — Fire and Police Substation

As a practical example, one of our firm’s recently completed projects reflects a joint venture just as we’ve described that seems to be a perfect fit for both parties. A volunteer fire/rescue department desperately needed a new home. The rapidly-growing city that their response area overlaps and supports needed another substation in approximately the same geographic area. The city openly acknowledged that it would likely annex the volunteer territory over the next 25 to 30 years. Therefore, the volunteer department agreed to build enough extra apparatus bays for a city fire department engine company, along with an additional sleep room to accommodate city career personnel. In exchange, the city agreed to pay one-half of the mortgage payment on the facility over the next 30 years. When the city eventually annexes the area, the station will immediately become their property and they will take over full payment on the mortgage.

In conclusion, you may still decide that sharing a facility is simply not something that your department can live with. However, a willingness to consider bringing on a public safety roommate and finding ways to share costs, resources and built space with this partner, will only benefit your construction budget and widen your project options.

Ken Newell, AIA, LEED AP, is a senior principal with Stewart–Cooper-Newell Architects, an award-winning firm whose growing resume includes architectural and consulting services for fire departments and municipalities in 23 states across the U.S. Mr. Newell has personally been involved with the design of over 175 Fire/EMS station projects and fire training facilities since 1988. For more information visit, email [email protected] or call 800-671-0621.
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