Making Change Simple, Cheaper, and Green - Part 1

March 21, 2002

“Ask yourself two questions,” says Alan Whitson, a corporate facilities consultant and national speaker based in Newport Beach, CA. “First, if the average churn rate is 40 percent a year and for some as high as 200 percent, why do we continue to design buildings that consume vast amounts of natural resources, time, and money whenever we need to make a change in the space? Second, while using recycled materials in projects is laudable, doesn’t selecting building systems and materials that save time, money, and are reusable again, again, and again make even more sense?”

Whitson, who gives more than 50 presentations a year, drives home his point with an example that’s repeated thousands of times each year in office buildings across North America. Hundreds of items are involved when changes are made to tenant spaces. Acoustical ceiling tiles, light fixtures, metal studs, gypsum wallboard, conduit and wire, paint, and carpet are among the most visible items. Let’s follow one item – gypsum wallboard – to see the headaches and cost involved in the conventional process.

First, fixed gypsum walls are demolished to accommodate a change in office layout. The debris is removed by elevator, so it’s usually done at night to meet tight construction schedules or avoid disrupting tenants. Overtime kicks in, as personnel are needed at night to operate elevators and provide security. The gypsum wallboard is placed in a dumpster or truck and ultimately finds its way to a landfill. Meanwhile, virgin gypsum is mined to manufacture new gypsum wallboard, delivered to the building, and brought up the elevator. Traffic lanes must be closed (requiring a permit) for trucks to load and unload construction materials if the building is in a central business district. Delivery and stocking of materials is often done at night or during off-peak hours, adding even more costs. Finally, there’s the noise, dust, and disruption that leaves office workers distracted, inefficient, and frustrated.

A Plan for Change

Conservation of natural resources is a worthy goal. Yet, conservation moves to the back burner when budgets shrink. “Culturally, facilities people still struggle with CFOs to get them to understand what their facilities can do for a company,” says Dean Barone of Barone Design Group, Houston.
The paradox is that conservation is a key element in creating facilities where entire floors can be changed overnight or over the weekend. “Designing conservation into a building will ultimately result in lower building operating costs, quicker turnaround of tenant spaces, and sizable long-term paybacks,” adds Whitson.

What’s required is a modular planning approach, reusable elements, and enlightened facilities managers and building owners. This is not difficult to achieve since buildings are commonly designed and built based upon a 5-foot, 4-foot, or 3-foot 4-inch building module. Consistent use of the modular planning approach makes it easier to reconfigure space and reuse elements. The goal is to create a kit of parts for interior construction that can be used anywhere within the facility. An additional benefit is the ability to use this kit of parts within the shell of any building anywhere. The best news, according to Barone, is that manufacturers have really responded in the past five years with innovative products that maximize flexibility.

Let’s start with the walls. An alternative to fixed gypsum walls is a movable wall system based on metal or gypsum panels. This system allows the walls to be quickly reconfigured or relocated. The benefits are four-fold:
• Less time and expense to reconfigure the walls because they are reusable.
• Reduced noise, dust, and disruption to tenants.
• Preservation of natural resources and reduced trips to the landfill. (Movable walls are over 90-percent reusable among the leading manufacturers.)
• Movable walls qualify for 7-year depreciation as they’re classified as tangible personal property, resulting in huge financial benefits even if the walls are never moved. (See Depreciation Without the Headache, this page.)

Let’s take a look at the typical company today.Since many companies work in teams, there’s a mix of private offices and enclosed “team space.” These teams are quickly formed, disbanded, and re-formed. As a result, problems often arise over the location and availability of space. Usually the problem is location. You have team space on the sixth floor, but need private offices. You haveprivate offices on the third floor, but need team space.

An easy overnight or weekend change is possible if the building was designed with this in mind.
Since the space was laid out using a modular planning approach, the two private offices on the third floor have the same footprint as a small “project team room.” These offices were built using a movable wall system, so the wall dividing the private offices can easily be removed, converting the private offices into team space. Then the wall is used to convert the team space into private offices.

In a conventional facility, the cost and time needed to make these seemingly simple changes are often so prohibitive and disruptive the change is not made. As a result, productivitysilently suffers.

Continues ... A Plan for a Change

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