A decision maker’s guide to new facility planning.
By Jeff Eriks and Evan Williams

When your current facility becomes inadequate for your current and future needs or when you are expanding into a new market, you will have some tough decisions to make regarding how you will design those needed improvements. One approach is to purchase an existing building and re-purpose it for your needs. While this option can be attractive in terms of cost and timeline, careful planning and evaluation is important to ensure that you are not purchasing a headache in a building that is ill-suited to your needs and will yield less savings than initially planned for due to poor building performance. Oftentimes, within the waste industry, existing buildings do not work well for the specific needs of your operations.


Example of expanding and upgrading an existing site: Aerial view of Rush Truck Centers Springfield, IL truck service center and parts sales where Cambridge completed an addition to the existing shop, upgraded the site, and remodeled the interior.

As an example, if you are looking to acquire an existing building for a hauling operation, an old auto maintenance shop building might seem like a good fit. The building may be the right zoning and general use for a truck maintenance shop, but the reality is that the size of that building is likely not compatible with servicing solid waste trucks. The ceiling clearance will not be high enough, the building depth will not be deep enough, and the overhead doors will not be tall enough. It is quite possible that the width of the bays will even be too narrow for your use.

Another example would be an old warehouse that has 150,000 square feet of floor space, which may sound like the optimal set up for a new MRF, however, the issues arise in that typical warehouse buildings usually only have 22′ to 26′ clear height inside the building and a column grid every 30′ to 50′ on center throughout the entire building. In addition, the floor slab is typically +/-6″ thick, not near enough to handle the processing equipment or the tipping area. You can usually make that sort of building work, but you either compromise the system design to shoehorn it into a shorter space and risk the building’s structure with operating a tipping area with columns, or you will spend a significant amount of money reworking large parts of the area’s structure to have greater height, larger open areas, and a thicker floor. At that point, it is often cheaper and easier to just take down the building and start over.

The Cummins maintenance facility in Arizona. Cambridge completed a renovation of the existing 28,000 SF building to best fit the needs of Cummins and its customers. Renovations included the front façade, the entire office and shop area, site upgrades, and a wash bay addition. A great example of a re-purposed existing building for the right client.
Photos courtesy of Cambridge Companies.


These are only two quick examples about how tough it is to find existing facilities to convert to something that is right for you. You have a tough task ahead of you when deciding what is right for you and your company in the short and long term. It is important to engage a firm that can help you figure out exactly what it is you need in the new or upgraded facility. The firm should have waste industry experience, so they know to ask all the pertinent questions regarding operational goals, financial goals, staff needs, vehicle routing, and maintenance, etc. The main objective will be to develop what the long-term goals would look like and figure out if that is something you want to do right away or do you phase into the final master plan as you hit growth objectives and goals.

Upgrading Your Existing Site
As your company looks to grow and expand their operations, you may be best served to evaluate your current facility to identify the best options to expand the operations. This could include buying neighboring properties, separating operations between multiple properties, or having smaller operations spread across different parts of your service areas. This is because you already know the current zoning should be right for your operations. This is not a viable option for every company and every site, but we highly recommend you perform a baseline assessment of your current site and your options there while you are also evaluating new properties and run the processes concurrently, so you do not lose time.

The master planning for expanding or upgrading an existing site typically takes less time than a new site. This is due to the following factors:
• You do not have to find and purchase a new property, which could take six to 10 months in and of itself.
• You will not typically need to go through re-zoning.
• Your neighbors already know who you are and what your operations consist of so they may not fight any improvements you want to make.

Some of the downsides of working on your existing site could be:
• If your current building is old, you may have to bring it up to current code or ADA compliance, which could be costly and disruptive.
• Your operations may be impacted by the construction, which could mean temporary displacement of team members.
• If you are planning on phasing improvements at your existing site, that work will likely take longer and cost more than a new site due to the extended construction schedule.
• Your existing site may not be big enough to handle all your future expansion needs.
• The design may not end up as operationally efficient as a new site could be, if you are planning on keeping existing site buildings or features.

You will want to engage a firm that can learn your operations and help you perform this evaluation and generate numerous ideas, plans, and concepts to help you work through this process. Ideally, this will be a partnership where your team can work to articulate their current operations and how they see that growing and changing over time, and the project design firm can help your team identify industry operational and safety best practices that might not currently be in place due to inadequate facilities or operational malaise. Along with the concepts developed, you need the firm to provide you budgetary options for each and realistic construction schedules that can help you put the entire proposed project into perspective. You want to be able to visualize how the entire thing can come together and what or how it would impact your operations during and after construction. All this needs to be evaluated and laid out for you. At the end of the day, you are trying to run a successful solid waste operation, not a design and construction company, so the goal will be to get this process completed quickly and efficiently so you can focus on what you do best.

The approach of re-developing your current site can cut out the time to acquire a new site, saving you anywhere from two to 10 months of time along with the cost of purchasing that new site. However, it is also the only option that will likely have operational impacts that may cost you money in compromised operations and a longer construction timeline. This must be taken into consideration as part of your evaluation.

Purchasing an Existing Building
At the same time, when you are working through options on your existing site, you should start evaluating existing buildings in the area that may work for your operations. An important part of this equation is working with an experienced commercial realtor. To make their search as effective as possible, work with your design/construction partner to identify critical site and building features needed so they are bringing you options that are useful. Typical direction for their search would be minimum clear interior building height, existing zoning, column grid layout, total buildable site area, availability of natural gas service (critical for CNG fleets), etc. The better the information you provide your realtor, the better the options they will present. Finding a good building for retrofitting for solid waste projects is not typical, so temper your expectations and work with your design/building vendor to see what changes are viable to make the options work for your needs.

Existing facilities will need a lot of analysis by your team and the firm you hire. Essential pieces of that analysis should include development of a site plan showing how your operations could fit on that site. A floor plan should be prepared to ensure your short- and long-term operational goals are met. If the site and floor plans appear to be viable options, the evaluation should then investigate the building and site to give you piece of mind that there are no hazardous materials within the building, such as asbestos, buried tanks, or other items to be found later. Once this work is completed, budgets and schedules need to be developed to be paired together with your cost to purchase the facility so you can see the entire investment required.

As previously mentioned, the process of buying this existing building including the investigation time and negotiation is likely to add six to 10 months to the overall process. Once that is completed, you then need to tack on the design, permitting, and construction timelines, and this could all total up to two years or more from start to finish—if there is a lot of work to be done onsite.

Purchasing a Greenfield Site
While complex in its own way, the purchase and development of a greenfield property is typically much less time intensive. Once you identify a few viable parcels of land, you will want to prepare site plans developed by your design partner that includes the building(s) required, site features, accommodations for storm water, utilities, etc. With that information, you overlay that on the available sites to confirm your programmatic spaces will fit on the parcels. Then, the firm can develop overall budgets and timelines and you can work to make a decision if any of those site options work for you. The negotiation on a greenfield site should be quick and typically the only investigation required is a phase 1 and possibly some exploratory geotechnical analysis, so confirm there are not any underground surprises.

The process of buying the land could be two to four months and then design, permitting, and construction will vary based on the type and size of project, but a general rule of thumb would be 12 to 24 months.

Good Preparation
As you can see, there is a lot that goes into the preparation for expansion before you even start evaluating your current site or
going offsite. The team members you include on your end need to be carefully selected and the outside firms you select to assist you are even more important. If your realtor does not have the local knowledge and understanding of the zoning requirements and the uses you require, they will not find site options that work for you. Re-zoning of parcels for solid waste uses could take years and you do not usually have that kind of time.

The design or design/build partner you bring on board must have a firm understanding of the solid waste industry and be able to help you analyze your operations. It is essential to the timely and efficient development of plans, budgets, and schedules specific to each type of property evaluated. These items developed need to be detailed enough to allow you to make good long-term decisions, because if you make decisions based on bad information, it will be to your detriment long term. | WA

Jeff Eriks is President of Cambridge Companies, a leading
design/build firm serving the waste industry for more than 30 years. Cambridge carries licenses in more than 40 states and has completed 170 solid waste design/build projects, including new construction and repairs, upgrades, and modifications to transfer stations, recycling centers/MRFs, maintenance facilities, landfill entrances and shops, office buildings, and more. With operational headquarters in Griffith, IN and Scottsdale, AZ, Cambridge continuously monitors the broader industry to determine needs, changes, or improvements that will benefit its clients and improve its design/build solutions. Jeff can be reached at [email protected] or visit www.CambridgeCoInc.com.

Evan Williams is a design project manager at Cambridge
Companies (Griffith, IN, and Scottsdale, AZ), a leading design-build firm working with the waste industry for more than 25 years. Cambridge carries licenses in more than 30 states and in its history has completed more than 170 solid waste design-build projects, including new build, repairs, upgrades, and/or modifications. Cambridge has worked on transfer stations, recycling centers/MRFs, maintenance facilities, landfill entrances and shops, office buildings, and more. Evan can be reached via e-mail at [email protected] or visit www.CambridgeCoInc.com.