Explore the various options for project builds

BY MIKE TOUSLEY, Executive Vice President & General Manager, The Weitz Company

The decision of whether to construct a building from the ground up or to renovate an existing building is a big factor that entities are faced with when their space needs change. Add in the option to rehabilitate a historic structure, and even more questions can arise.

As a general contractor and construction manager, one of our jobs is to understand what the customer wants and needs, and, ultimately, we can guide them to choose a solution that will best fit those needs. Mike Cooper, one of our Senior Project Managers, talks with me this month about how we can help customers select the right building product.


Start with the customer’s goals

Everyone needs something a little different. Most customers focus on their long-term company and employee needs. Some factor in the look of their space and whether its design and function aligns with the culture of their company. The customer should identify their overarching vision and needs before the process begins.

Mike Cooper: There can be a lot of variables in selecting a site, so it’s best to narrow down what the customer wants: urban or suburban setting, amenities such as trails and ponds, or even the desire to have a historical setting or connection. What is the customer’s motivation? Do they want to make a statement about something related to history or preservation? Then a historic building might be the way to go. Will they need more space in the future? Then a new build might best accommodate those needs for future expansion.

Evaluate the pros and cons of each build option

There are essentially two main types of project builds: existing building renovation or build from the ground up. A subset of existing building renovation is historic building rehabilitation. Each has its own pros and cons, which the customer will need to consider.

Renovate existing space:

Mike Cooper: If you renovate an existing space, it can be less expensive than a new building and most often can minimize negative environmental impacts because there is existing infrastructure. Particularly if a building has good bones, renovation can contribute to keeping communities vibrant and relevant. However, there are also more risks related to potential unknowns about the building that can be concealed within its walls such as asbestos or lead paint issues. There also can be space limitations, which can make expansions difficult or limit them.

Due to the existence of building infrastructure, renovation also can mean an expedited construction period, so the customer can move more quickly into their new space.

New construction:

Mike Cooper: There is less financial risk of running into unknown issues within the structure with a new build. There’s also less possibility of upfront maintenance, and the customer can plan for and accommodate future expansions. A new build can be more costly because the structure and exterior skin for the building must be factored into the overall budget. There also could be a negative environmental impact, unless the building is constructed on a brownfield site, such as a former industrial site that has no other use, or it is designed using top tier green building principles, such as a LEED Platinum or net-zero energy goal.

Existing historical building:

This is similar to renovating an existing building except there can be more costs associated with it in order to preserve the historic nature of the structure. If the building is on the National Register of Historic Places, there are limits to the remodeling that can be done, and the project must follow the historic rehabilitation guidelines.

Mike Cooper: There are varying degrees of rehabilitation with historic buildings. Is the customer’s goal to preserve as much of the historic fabric of the building as possible? If that’s the case, the project will likely cost more to take those extra measures into consideration. If the customer wants or needs to preserve the historic exterior of the building and none of the existing elements inside, this can often cost less than historically rehabilitating the building or taking it all back to its original configuration. There are some tax credits and grants available to assist with the cost of renovating a historic building, but the parties involved with the project will need to apply for these and inquire about their availability.

Who Should Be at the Table

Who should be at the table?

When customers evaluate building or site options, it is smart to have a team of professionals to guide them through the process.This includes real estate professionals, architects and contractors, as a start.

Often, customers will have ideas in mind when they begin the selection process, whether it’s a particular site or a building. Their broker will have helped them identify buildings or sites that could be a candidate for the project. An architect will help them determine whether a building is feasible for the amenities they want it to have, including office layout and/or future expansion.

Mike Cooper: We can evaluate Site A or Site B to get an early sense of the financial impact of each option. Customers will want a firm that also has a pulse on the labor market and knows the manpower needed to complete a project, as well a tentative schedule for construction that would compare a renovation to new construction. All of this will help the customer decide what’s best for them.

The time it takes to start and complete work, in addition to the cost to complete the project, are often the two biggest drivers in determining a project build. A contractor will evaluate both and provide the customer with multiple options to allow them to achieve an outcome that meets their overall project goals.

Contact us to talk more about how we can help you choose what’s right for you.

Mike Cooper, Senior Project Manager

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