Facilities Planning

Expanding Into Your Already Too-Small Facility

Many facilities can be modified and upgraded at a much smaller cost than building a new facility. By following these five steps, you will know in about six weeks whether or not your changes, upgrades and budget are feasible and how it can affect your operations in a positive way.

Jeff Eriks

Pat yourself on the back. You’ve grown your business 5 to 10 percent for the past several years. Your business is going great and the future outlook is bright. You’ve been so focused on working to grow your business that one day you wake up and realize that you’ve outgrown your facility. Now none of us have ever run into that issue, right? Unfortunately, many of us have and it isn’t an easy problem to fix. So what do you do? Do you have the capital or time to knock it down and start from scratch? What are your options and what is the best way to attack this problem? This article will focus on three solutions; however, not every option works for everyone.

  1. Bite the bullet and design and build a brand new facility and abandon or sell the existing one—This is a costly way out.

  2. Do nothing and modify your operations to fit what you have and deal with it until further notice—This is the most cost-effective alternative as far as capital is concerned, but maybe not operationally. This may be a short-term fix, but in the long run, operating inefficiently is going to cost more than correcting the issues and expanding your existing facility.

  3. Evaluate what you have and your operations, and determine the feasibility to expand and/or modify your existing facility—This option is, in most cases a good fit, from both a capital and operational point of view. You can apply this problem solving process to hauling companies, landfill shops, offices, transfer stations and MRFs along with many other facilities.

There is no cookie cutter response, or one answer fits all, but given the right design and construction team you can typically solve your problems in a way that won’t strap you financially. For purposes of this article, let’s focus on option #3 and make the assumption that your site has sufficient free space to allow for any necessary building and site expansion that would be required, plus future growth. Let’s walk through a brief overview of the steps.

Step 1: Who Are You Going to Work With?

It’s time to choose your partner for this project. You need to choose a team to work with and whether it is an architectural firm or a design/build construction company is up to you. A piece of advice on choosing the right firm: before you choose, you need to pre-qualify your architect or design/build firm. It is crucial to ask for references—not just of any projects, but of projects similar in scope to what you are dealing with. Your project is completely different than building a bank or a restaurant and you want to make sure they understand the waste industry, your operations and, most importantly, renovation projects. When you select your team and talk to past clients, find out how the project went for those who had to “live” through the remodeling. Was it well planned out and executed so that their employees could work and stay focused on their tasks and daily duties?

Ok, you have done your homework and chosen the right firm. Once this step is complete, bring them to your facility and walk them through so they can get familiar with it. We’re done right? You say to yourself, “All we have to do is wait for the design firm to come back with all the right answers!” Nope … sorry, there is more.

Step 2: Internal Analysis

The best way to tackle this problem is to get together with your internal team (stakeholders if you will) and talk about your problems and issues with the current facility and how these issues impact your operations and your bottom line. Be detailed, very thorough and prepare a comprehensive list. The next step is to rank those in an order from most problematic (on both levels operations and bottom line) down to minor inconveniences. Some common “high level” deficiencies include: lack of office space, inadequate or depressing locker rooms, insufficient HVAC systems due to the expanded number of employees, lack of shop space due to the higher volume of trucks serviced daily, restrooms too small or in disrepair, building exterior has been damaged over time, poor lighting, etc. Many of these items can affect the daily operations of a facility and cause it to operate inefficiently or lead to poor employee moral. A comprehensive list gives you an opportunity to really evaluate what you can fix operationally and what needs to be addressed in your design and construction. When you think about this, consider your plan as though you were able to start with a clean sheet of paper. Working with this point of view, your vision can be used to guide and influence the design process, and to get your final project as close as possible to what you would have done, had you been able to start all over.

Step 3A: Preliminary Planning and Budget (Feasibility Study)

Based on this information, after you complete the first two steps, you need to have the architects or design/build firm do a feasibility study on your existing facility to find out what all can be fixed, what solutions they have and what the budget would be for each. You might wonder what the purpose of the feasibility study is. If we consider an office/shop facility for a hauling company you might need to determine if you will have sufficient site areas to expand your employee and/or route vehicle parking. Will it be possible to expand your offices? Will you be able to design a floor plan that will allow you to properly configure your offices to facilitate the workflow that keeps inter-related departments in close proximity and keep these modifications within your capital constraints?

Let’s consider a transfer station. If you consider what you may benefit from a transfer station perspective, a feasibility study might entail efforts to evaluate whether your facility can be upgraded or if modifications to your facility are feasible. For example, if you have a facility that is processing 700 TPD (with business potential to grow to 1000 TPD) through a facility designed to process 300 TPD on a four-acre site. This may prove to be a difficult task. But if that facility was located on a eight-acre site, it is probably feasible to expand that facility, modify your traffic flow and completely change your operations to make the site work. Although these examples are oversimplified, they are the types of discussions, decisions and findings that will occur during a feasibility study. This will cost you a few thousand dollars but will provide you valuable information to make the decision whether to proceed with the project or not. The study will tell you whether or not your modifications make sense and how many of them can be completed within your budget and they can also provide you some schematic floor plans so you can see what your facility will look like after the changes are made. The architect can also provide you various options that may include staying within the building footprint, expanding the building outside the footprint, adding another floor to the building, etc. Develop a preliminary plan that includes enough detail to allow for accurate budgets based on the probable design criteria such as materials and construction methods and types (metal building, masonry, etc). This will allow you the opportunity to prepare construction budgets for each option.

Step 3B: Budget Time

Now we get to talk numbers. It is always important to design backwards. Why? This is important because if you don’t specify your budget upfront, you may spend ungodly amounts of money on architectural fees for a project that ends up costing twice what your budget is. If this happens, it means that all the time and money spent on those plans is wasted as you need to stop, regroup and start all over again. But if you are working with a good design firm experienced in the waste industry, and one that has real experience with real world cost and pricing, you have the ability to set your budget upfront and then have them design to that number. I have seen several instances where an owner hires an architect, tells them what they need and then steps back and the architect takes over and designs the facility. It then goes out to bid only to have the owner get the prices back and say it is too expensive, we need to start over. Not only did they waste their time, but they also wasted the architect’s time, contractor’s time and a lot of money that they didn’t have to spend.Take note that these two steps are labeled 3A and 3B for a good reason. These two steps are not mutually exclusive. In fact, as stated, for a successful project these two steps need to be done in unison (like synchronized swimming) for this process to be successful. This means that you set your maximum you are willing to spend and then design your way into that number. You marry the process of design to be consistent with the budgetary goals that have been set in place. Having the cost (budget) work in conjunction with design will help to limit the design firm and other stakeholders from adding “conveniences” or “luxury items” that the owner really doesn’t need. Another option that would help you is to choose a construction company or design/build firm to include in this project upfront so they can provide you with accurate construction budgets. Many times architects and engineers alone supply “guesstimates” that are 20 to 40 percent lower than actual construction costs.

Ok, we have developed our list of issues, set the program for the designers and finalized our budget for this project. Now what?

Now it depends on how good your designers are at coming up with creative and cost-effective solutions to your problems and staying within your budget. Maybe you can only afford to fix your top three or maybe you can fix your top 10. It all depends on your situation, your facility, your budget and, most importantly, your choice of design firm. (Note: This is where pre-qualification of your architect or design/build firm is crucial.) Sometimes it just doesn’t pay to try and work with your existing facility because it is too small or has too many code violations (due to age), or maybe your operations have changed so much that this building just isn’t feasible anymore.

Let’s recap: issues have been discussed and ranked, architect or design/build firm chosen, program set, budget set, feasibility study done.

Step 4: Decision Time

It’s really up to you now. Does working with the existing building make operational and financial sense or should you just stick it out for a few more years and then build a new building? No architect or design/build firm can make this decision for you. The most important take-away from this piece is to remember that many facilities can be modified and upgraded at a much smaller cost than building a new facility. If you follow these five steps, you will know in about six weeks whether or not your changes, upgrades and budget are feasible and how it can affect your operations in a positive way.

Jeff Eriks and Cambridge Construction (Griffith, IN) have been working with the waste industry for 18 years. During that time more than 100 solid waste projects have been completed which consist of design/build projects, transfer station repairs and facility upgrades and modifications for facilities such as transfer stations, hauling companies, office buildings, MRF’s, wastewater treatment plants and container repair facilities. Cambridge has been studying the operations and changes within the waste industry extensively during this time and continues to improve design/build solutions to meet the dynamic needs of the solid waste industry. Jeff can be reached at (888) 972-1155, via e-mail at [email protected] or visit the Web site at

www.TransferStations.com or their blog at www.ConstructionandWaste.com.


Minor Changes

As an informational note, there are many minor changes you can make to a building to increase functionality and flow of the offices for relatively little cost compared to the impact they make. In a lot of cases the interior walls are not structural and can be moved around to work with the current operations and staff. Transfer stations are a little harder to modify as there are typically large amounts of concrete to contend with as well as pits, compactors and other equipment and building issues. Transfer stations can, however, benefit from operational changes to make them more efficient or by adding small things like deflector shields or pit scales to shorten the time it takes to load the truck.