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The Feasibility Study – Look Before You Leap

The cost of performing a task can usually be fairly closely estimated, if not precisely determined, before the fact.  Furthermore, that cost is sometimes a small fraction of the cost of not doing it.   This thinking is especially true of feasibility studies as illustrated by a scenario I have seen played out more than once. The chain of events begins when a company, needing more space, calls on someone in their facilities department to plan a new facility, addition or renovation.

Next, a workable preliminary floor plan is developed and bids are solicited from qualified contractors.  At this point, the facility owner may be ahead of the game.  It is not unusual that someone can be found in-house who is capable of developing a floor plan to satisfy the company’s circulation and space requirements.  However, that person may have no knowledge of the multitude of other requirements (zoning, code, ADA, storm water detention, energy demands, etc.) that must be complied with.  Without a feasibility study, considerable time may be wasted taking bids, arranging for financing, awarding a contract and moving ahead with final design before some previously unknown requirement presents a problem that does not lend itself to a cost effective solution.

Since the object of a feasibility study is to arrive at a very critical decision affecting the future of your company, it is essential to proceed through a comprehensive, well thought out process.  The most basic components of the process include:

  • Assembling the in-house team
  • Defining objectives
  • Gathering available data
  • Preparing the scope of professional services required
  • Procuring professional services
  • Carrying the study through to completion

Assembling the In-House Team

The best decisions are often arrived at after evaluating a problem from several different perspectives.  In assembling your team you need to consider which viewpoints need to be represented.  Also, the team needs to be of manageable size and even though the input of each team member is valuable, the participation of all parties must not dilute the leadership ultimately required to arrive at final decisions.

Defining Objectives

Define objectives by identifying the needs and goals for immediate consideration as well as those which must be addressed in the future.  Also, the time frame and budget must be established.  Finally, you should prepare a written program setting forth the physical requirements of the project including, but not necessarily limited to, features such as:

  • Off-street parking for employees and visitors
  • Provisions for deliveries and shipping
  • Square footage requirements for interior spaces
  • Minimum heights required
  • Critical adjacency and circulation patterns
  • Special equipment, systems, materials and/or finishes required
  • Aesthetic considerations

Gathering Available Data

Making use of every bit of existing, pertinent data on hand can save you the cost of having someone else reinvent the wheel.  The information required may include, among others, items such as:

    • A registered survey showing property lines, buildings, topography, underground utilities, surface features, easements or other encumbrances
    • Record drawings of existing buildings
    • Geotechnical and/or environmental reports
    • MSDS’s relative to hazardous materials
    • A list of all applicable governing authorities and any other agencies (eg. your insurance underwriter), whose requirements must be met
    • Information relating to tanks – eg. materials stored, volumes, diking, etc.

A good approach to assembling data is for your team to generate a list of what you think will be required and have it reviewed by an Architectural/Engineering (A/E) firm you expect to solicit a proposal from.

Preparing the Scope of Professional Services Required

The more precisely you define the scope of services, the quicker you determine the cost that will be incurred. Some things you need to consider when you prepare the scope of services are as follows:

  • What information (field measurements, a survey, geotechnical reports, etc.) must be gathered to supplement that which you will provide?
  • In researching the requirements of governing authorities, are there any special hazards or other unusual conditions that must be considered?
  • Must the adequacy of existing utilities be checked?
  • If there will be separate consultants involved, (e.g. Telecommunications, material handling), how will they interact with the A/E?
  • What level of design development is required and how detailed must preliminary drawings be?
  • Will perspective renderings or any other presentation quality drawings be required?
  • To what degree of accuracy must cost estimating be performed?

Procuring Professional Services

In selecting a professional design team, tangible factors such as the firm’s past experience, technical capabilities and track record in fulfilling the needs of their clients must be considered.  However, there is also one very important less tangible factor to remember.  Since you are entering into a relationship that will involve collaboration over a significant period of time, the team you select should be one that will work harmoniously with you on both personal and professional levels.

Carrying the Study Through to Completion

A running dialogue between you and the A/E is part and parcel of performing the study.  Consequently, there are two very important guidelines you need to follow during this phase.  First and foremost, make every effort to achieve effective communication.  Second, allow enough time to do the job right and arrive at well thought out conclusions.

In summary, there are many decisions made in moving a building program from the initial statement of needs to the satisfaction of them with bricks and mortar.  What you pay for a feasibility study will be a very small portion of the ultimate total project cost.  However, by making that investment, you may very well avoid the cost of spinning your wheels heading in the wrong direction.