Avoid Nightmare Scenarios in a Lab Buildout

CRE Industry Taps Life Science Talent Pool for Expertise

Article originally published by Banker & Tradesman

Rapid innovation in the life sciences has driven the need for many different types of labs and technical spaces. Where standard chemistry and biology labs could once accommodate most processes, the rise of cell/gene therapies, RNAi, protein therapeutics, genomics and synthetic biology has created a need for highly specialized labs and equipment.

Additionally, industries such as robotics, medical devices, batteries, food science and semiconductors have expanded and require technical space with functionality for both scientists and makers. As lab spaces grow in volume and complexity, effective lab planning has become more critical than ever to optimizing function and flow in the workplace.

Lab planning lays the groundwork for strategy and design decisions around a new lab space. It balances technical requirements with purpose-driven programming – the iterative process of compiling functional requirements around square feet and infrastructure. As real estate is one of the largest expenses for life sciences companies, planning and programming are essential steps to maximize value in real estate decisions and facilitate a smooth transition into the new lab.

Without thoughtful planning, suboptimal work environments may lead to costly disruptions. Imagine moving into a new lab with infrastructure like HVAC or waste collection that doesn’t comply with local biosafety regulations, thereby delaying any work to occur in the lab. Or realizing that the relocated mass spectrometer doesn’t have the right connections to exhaust, power, specialized gas or backup power, thus significantly delaying planned experiments. Both scenarios represent major interruptions to lab operations and could be financial nightmares to remedy. The worst circumstance a life sciences company can encounter is prematurely running out of space for new equipment and employees, leading to an unexpected and urgent search for more space. A robust and tailored program paired with a realistic real estate strategy can help life sciences companies confidently plan for the future and avoid potential missteps.

Develop a Team and Timeline

Lab planning and programming should begin in the very early stages of the real estate process. While these activities are often carried out during the architectural design process, this is potentially problematic: The lease has already been signed, and there is a risk that the space cannot support the lab function and needs.

Instead, organizations should initiate lab planning and operational conversations during their search for space to help define the parameters of the search. Accurate “right-sizing” generates true value, potentially saving companies millions of dollars by avoiding situations of too much or not enough space.

Assembling the right real estate advisory team is key to this process. Many commercial real estate advisors work primarily with traditional office space, where a simple headcount and workstyle analysis can determine square footage and layout needs. Life sciences clients, on the other hand, require a higher degree of customization and specification. Labs and technical spaces are driven by many factors beyond headcount: stage of development, industry, scientific modality, processes, equipment, functional support, infrastructure requirements, and more.

Fortunately, with the rise in life sciences in Boston, many real estate organizations have recruited professionals with scientific industry experience. These advisors can leverage end-user perspective to ask the right questions and develop holistic real estate solutions.

With companies’ operations and output depending on the functionality of their lab spaces, it is imperative to use all of the tools at one’s disposal to ensure it is done right. Lab planning is critical to the success of the real estate life cycle for life sciences organizations, offering a process to capture initial requirements and serve as a basis for the evolving needs that inevitably arise throughout the design development. By investing in a custom lab program early in the real estate process and bringing the right expertise to the table, organizations will save time and money for maximized value and productivity.

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Megan Koren sits on the HQ team as Vice President, Strategic Initiatives & Operations, and resides in Phoenix. Outside of work, she is a force for good, volunteering her time with various organizations that impact the lives of children for the better.