The Big Picture Perspective: Whole Building/Whole Campus Facility Condition Assessment

by Nick Baker, P.E., CCP, GPCP, LEED AP BD+C, Shaun May, EIT, CEM, and Jacob Odell

This article is part of Wood Harbinger’s newsletter series.

Over the last six months, we have noticed a substantial increase in facility owners seeking facility condition assessment services. Some owners are looking for whole building or whole campus assessments, and others have sought more targeted assessments focused on certain systems. In this two-part series, we’ll explore the benefits, differences, and processes of facility conditions assessments for whole buildings/campuses and for specific systems. This article features the whole building/campus facility condition assessment option. Read more about system-specific assessments here.

Why a Whole Building/Campus Facility Condition Assessment?

A whole building or whole campus facility condition assessment gives owners an analytical overview of their current or future building assets.  This big picture view is very useful information for master planning, whether for facility upgrades, renovations, or expansions; business function changes or relocations; and facility acquisitions.

Master planning is where the whole building or whole campus methodology becomes crucial. Substantial upgrade, renovation, expansion or changes to building use have a significant impact on building infrastructure systems, like power, chilled water, or information and communication technology. Knowing how your future plans affect this infrastructure can enable better up-front planning for these deeply ingrained systems. For example, it’s much more effective to add the extra capacity in your central plant necessary for a campus expansion than to get to that point in 20 years only to find out there’s no room to expand the plant because you built a new classroom building in that space, for example.

When Do I Need a Whole Building/Campus Facility Condition Assessment?

Although the way we approach a facility condition assessment may change depending on which element of planning it’s meant to inform—and whether one is planning for immediate or future needs—the process itself remains pretty consistent. Let’s look deeper into what kind of information these assessments reveal and what can be done with it.

Planning for Upgrades, Renovations, and Expansions

When upgrading existing building infrastructure, it is crucial to first identify and understand existing conditions, root causes of those conditions, and the owner’s current facility requirements, then prioritize a project scope that matches the owner’s needs and expectations. A condition assessment conducted prior to upgrade, renovation, or expansion helps identify opportunities and challenges one might have before getting into an actual project. This could be for near-term projects that support current needs or projects farther out that will support forecasted needs. Examples might include a building at the end of its useful life and not serving its purpose well anymore; at the current enrollment rate, a college will be at capacity in 10 years so you need to expand; business is booming and you need more staff or more manufacturing floorspace; or healthcare building codes are changing and you need to update your facilities to be in compliance. The facility assessment adds a dimension of information to this business planning, since future business will take place within the built environment.

Here’s an example of a pre-upgrade, renovation, expansion facility condition assessment: Wood Harbinger evaluated the mechanical, plumbing, fire protection, and electrical systems of two hospital campuses to help support their master planning efforts in the community. Our team identified problems, restrictions, and solutions associated with current operations and also with future growth and space programming needs. We found 40+ improvement measures ranging from energy efficiency upgrades, building code and safety mitigation measures, electrical distribution improvements, and major maintenance tasks. With this information and cost estimates, the hospital was able to make an informed decision that it was more cost effective to build a new facility. Without this comprehensive assessment, they may have opted to renovate and expand, potentially at reduced effectiveness of fund expenditures in the long run.

Assessments like this can be done well in advance of a project for master planning needs, but it can also be beneficial to revisit specific assessments just prior to beginning a project. For example, we conducted a pre-construction facility condition assessment for a campus controls upgrade project that had been planned, scoped, and estimated, five years before the project was actually funded and kicked off. Our investigation revealed several deviations between the current existing conditions and the record documents provided, such as buildings that had changed purposes and equipment that wasn’t working. Had the controls upgrade project gotten underway without this final assessment, the owner may have ended up with brand new controls in places that couldn’t benefit from them, impeding the success of that project. It’s a fact of life that buildings evolve/devolve over time.  A facility assessment measures the building condition and performance to this moment in time.

Changing/Relocating Business Functions

Changing the business function of a building, or relocating it to another building, is rarely a simple transition. Most likely, at least some modifications will be needed, or perhaps even a full-on upgrade or renovation. In a building use change scenario, a facility condition assessment compares the facility’s existing conditions against the operational criteria of the function (and current facility requirements, or CFR) to confirm whether or not the facility can meet today’s functional needs. The process identifies any changes/improvements that will need to be made to the facility prior to changing or moving the function.

For example, reconfiguring an office space may require at least some modifications to electrical receptacles or HVAC distribution. Converting a storage space into an operating room is going to require a bit more renovation. Renovating an old “big box” store into a medical office building, like Wood Harbinger did for Providence in West Olympia, required all new building systems within the shell.

Whole building/campus facility condition assessments also take into account operations and maintenance staffing and plans. These are the people and processes that keep buildings operating effectively over time. Assessing their operations and future needs is just as important as assessing the systems with which they work. In one example, Wood Harbinger collaborated with a local utility to assess the feasibility of consolidating their data center function. We assessed the available existing spaces where the new consolidated data center might go, as well as their IT processes and procedures. Together with their personnel, we determined the strongest business case was to leave the current distributed operational strategy in place, due to their well-planned and executed operations. Had we just been looking at building systems and space requirements, the utility may have spent money building out a new data center space that ultimately may not have been more efficient.

Facility Acquisition

A facility condition assessment conducted prior to acquiring a new building helps an owner determine the real value of the building before purchase. This is particularly useful if a building will require some significant use-change modifications. The assessment is focused on comparing facility capabilities with use requirements and goes beyond the systems and the building itself to assess zoning and permit requirements for the land as well.

The Whole Building/Campus Facility Condition Assessment Process

There are numerous facility condition assessment methodologies; perhaps the most effective for the whole building/campus is the Existing Building Commissioning (EBCx) method. This process includes existing equipment and systems investigation, analysis of this information from the perspective of how systems all work together as a whole, and from this perspective, recommending useful and accurate facility improvement measures (FIMs) that range from low/no cost modifications and capital-intensive projects.

Engineering cost estimates and life cycle cost analyses (LCCA) are part of the EBCx process and are used to rate the feasibility and cost-effectiveness of each recommendation over a 10 or 15-year period. Long-term cost analysis is indispensable to evaluating each recommendation’s capital costs and Return on Investment (ROI). LCCA is especially valuable to justify investment in more efficient and expensive equipment. ROI analysis will reveal the payback period, which is the essential information that owners often need to get a project off the ground.

Finally, no EBCx process is complete until the O&M staff have the training and tools needed to successfully maintain the optimized operation of the as-left systems. Systems manuals, operations and maintenance data, and instructor-led training are all used to help O&M staff fulfill their job duties.

Seeing is Believing

EBCx for a whole building/campus provides an unbiased comparison of how a building is operating with how it should be operating according to its design, or needs to be operating according to current or future use requirements. Its benefit really comes from its comprehensiveness: a big picture understanding of existing conditions yields effective recommendations, which in turn gives insight into successfully undertaking upgrades, renovations, expansions, and use changes while avoiding problems during construction and commissioning. Ultimately, a whole building and campus facility condition assessment is a proactive approach to smart asset management.

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