Universal Flex Labs™: A Case Study on Capital and Operating Efficiency

December 22, 2010

By Bill Kane

By 2030, it is estimated that people 65 years old or over will comprise 25% of the US population.  Fueled by this demographic trend, the demand for new drug therapies and improved healthcare will promote record levels of spending in research and discovery and rain dollars upon all companies involved in the life science industry…right?  Wrong!  In today’s dollars-and-cents world, capital efficiency is playing a more strategic role in biotech board rooms as the R&D financing world navigates through a global economic recovery and the R&D operating world adapts to the new metrics of healthcare reform.

Enter life science real estate.  Requiring robust building standards such as heavy structural loading, sophisticated exhaust systems and generous floor-to-floor heights, life science real estate presents significant challenges and opportunities in effectively managing a bio facility’s capital and operating costs.  The challenges lie within the upfront investment and ongoing operating costs that are required to build and manage these resilient and specialized environments.  The opportunities, however, are in space programming and maximizing flexibility by coupling adaptable work spaces with the latest technology in HVAC controls and design.  Successfully implemented, the end result is a universal and flexible work environment that suits a lab user’s evolving needs and significantly lowers utility cost.

The concept of Universal Flex Labs™ encourages lab planners and builders to deviate from the traditional approach to lab module construction where fixed walls, benches and pipes more or less prescribed the intended use and were expensive to change for new personnel, new science or new process.  By engaging adaptable work spaces and “plug and play” mechanical systems throughout an open floor plan, users customize the space to their specific needs and make physical adjustments over time without excessive construction costs.

BioMed Realty Trust, a San Diego based REIT and one of the largest life science real estate providers in Massachusetts, recently teamed up with lab planners Dan Winny, Arthur Brunelle, architect Arrowstreet, and builder Consigli Construction to incorporate the Universal Flex Labs™ approach in the redevelopment of 325 Vassar Street, a 60,000 square foot laboratory research facility located near the MIT campus in Cambridge, Massachusetts.  The team initially faced an ambitious project goal:  to design and build research space that will be adaptable and flexible for a variety of Cambridge lab uses, while also maximizing the space’s operational efficiency.   The team created several flexible suites that can modulate in size and program through the combined use of ceiling mounted service carriers, modular office systems and flexible tables, benches and casewor

This concept addresses two of the key goals in life science facility design: rapid occupancy and growth and change over time.  Facility owners are allowed to create a user-friendly facility before a specific program is known; and users can be confident that both their initial and future space needs can be implemented quickly and cost-effectively.

Bill Kane is Senior Director of Acquisitions & Leasing at BioMed Realty Trust.

To learn more about Universal Flex Labs™or to tour 325 Vassar Street, please contact Richards Barry Joyce & Partners at 617-439-6000 or visit www.325vassar.com

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