Avoid Duplication of Spaces to Control Your Construction Costs

The cost of construction, like almost everything, seems to go up every year. Rarely during my 30-year career have I witnessed any expense associated with a building project decrease. When expenses do decrease, they usually accompany serious economic problems, and they usually don’t stay lower for long. Ever-rising costs are powerful motivators for taking every action to reduce your construction costs. One critical step in controlling your construction costs is to not duplicate the activities or spaces needed in your new or renovated facility.


Adding some perimeter work stations to a Conference Room can provide for more office space and a Library.

Let’s start by looking at a real scenario. Not long ago, we were hired by a fire department to design a new headquarters facility. The city had previously employed a designer to provide space programming for budgeting purposes. Their first program resulted in a proposed facility of approximately 30,000 square feet and included several duplicated spaces — simply because the designer did not have extensive experience in how a fire station functions. After we revisited the program, we were able to reduce the facility size to approximately 28,000 square feet, without sacrificing any station functionality. Now 2,000 square feet doesn’t sound like a lot compared to the total size of the building, but 2,000 square feet times a construction cost of $350/sf is $700,000!

A strategically located station kitchen that also opens into the training room.

Keep in mind that the purpose of this discussion is to encourage thought on how to reduce space from your planned facility. Some of the spaces discussed may very well need to be duplicated in order for your department to function properly. You will ultimately be the one to make that decision.

The typical medium to large station has training/community rooms and dayrooms. There is an obvious advantage to have a kitchen or food prep area near each of these rooms. We often see a small warming kitchen located just off of the training/community room for the occasional meal that is served. If the training/community room and dayroom can be planned near each other one kitchen may be able to serve both areas. We often design the kitchen between the training/community room and the dayroom with passage doors and counter doors serving each side. This allows the kitchen to serve into either and saves the cost of unnecessary space and seldom used appliances. Kitchens are often the most expensive room(s) in the building. Why build more of them than you need?

Conference rooms are another space that you may consider minimizing duplications. In most stations, small conference rooms are used less than once every week. If you have sized your training/conference room for the maximum occupancy, consider incorporating a de-mountable wall that allows you to section off a small portion of the room for daily conferences. Then you can open the de-mountable wall when you need to accommodate a larger gathering. There are several areas in the typical station that can be used for meetings such as training rooms, conference rooms, dining rooms, dayrooms, etc. Keep these areas and their frequency of use in mind to make sure that you don’t duplicate conference facilities.

A conference room separated from the training room with a movable partition that can serve as overflow.

Departments often need to provide a library to house continuing education, training and reference materials for the firefighters use. Very few stations have enough residents to warrant a separate, dedicated room for a library. The library can be combined with a conference room, or even the training room. If the training room is to be occasionally used for community events, the library can be a large storage closet adjacent to the training room that is locked when community events are taking place.

If your station has a full-time receptionist, consider yourself lucky. For those of you who will not have this position consider combining the radio/report/watch room into one space with a pass window to the lobby. This space is likely to be occupied much of the day, thus providing personnel to “receive” any visitors.

These are just a few ideas to consider when you are attempting to minimize the needed space for your new or renovated station. By all means, build as much space as you can possibly afford when you finally get the opportunity. You’ll never be able to build future space any cheaper than now. But once you start calculating how much every square foot of space is going to cost, you’ll likely find it necessary to cut back. Eliminating duplicated spaces should be the first step in reducing the budget.

Since 1988, Ken Newell, AIA, LEED AP BD+C, has earned a national reputation for the programming and design of Public Safety Facilities that are functional, practical and budget-conscious. He has been directly involved in the planning and design of over 300 fire stations, EMS stations and Public Safety Training Facility projects designed by Stewart-Cooper-Newell Architects. Since 2000, Ken has become one of the most in-demand presenters at national Public Safety design conferences. His unique ability to deliver high-quality and educational presentations, on very practical topics, has earned him top ratings from audiences across the country.

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