Lab construction costs and the unique variables at play

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Stankiewicz_Peter_Color_Casual_HiRes2From Peter Stankiewicz
Managing Director, JLL Construction

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Generally speaking, costs for lab construction are typically subject to the same variables that come into play for commercial office space construction. Key variables can include:

  • Square footage: The larger the space, the more economy of scale you’ll see for hard costs. Higher square footage will also result in a lower cost per square foot for add-ons such as Construction Manager/General Contractor and sub profit margins, and related general conditions costs.
  • Union or non-union: This can result in a variance of up to 20% on cost numbers.
  • Existing building infrastructure: Depending on the extent of the existing building infrastructure this can also impact cost numbers. What amount of demolition is required, type of and extent of existing mechanical and electrical systems will also impact costs.
JLL performed the award-winning ground-up construction of EMD Serono’s $65M, 140,000-square-foot LEED Gold Certified Research Facility in Billerica, MA.

JLL performed the award-winning ground-up construction of EMD Serono’s $65M, 140,000-square-foot LEED Gold Certified Research Facility in Billerica, MA.

However, when it comes to lab construction, there are some additional variables at play. Client processes vary greatly depending on what field they are in, from nano-technology to infectious diseases, bio-pharma, cancer research, animal research, and more. Each one of these has very specific requirements for HVAC environmental control and conditions, process gases, waste handling, physical environment, lighting environment, electrical equipment loads, process water systems, chemical treatment & storage requirements. Depending on how critical the labs are, they may also require redundancy of power, HVAC, or other specialty systems.

As a result, what is available for existing infrastructure becomes even more of a factor with lab construction. Buildings that are well suited for an office tenant are not particularly suitable for a lab tenant. Floor to floor heights should be upwards of 14’ in order to accommodate the extensive mechanical and plumbing roughing above the ceiling. Not having this can result in higher coordination costs, building structure modifications, and lower than desired ceiling heights. HVAC systems for office buildings are typically the type that re-circulates air, while labs require once through air. They also can have specialty exhaust systems and filtration systems. To add HVAC equipment and controls to accommodate this can be costly. There are also a number of other building variables that come into play including electrical services and plumbing systems.

Consequently, due to all these factors, you will see a large variation in lab construction costs compared to office costs. We have seen in our region that lab construction costs can range from a low of $215 up to $1200 per square foot. Unfortunately, there is no one formula, and each lab use and building needs to be evaluated individually. Understanding the client’s processes and requirements is a critical first step in lab pricing. Involving a Construction Manager early on is even more important when planning lab projects to help establish accurate budget parameters.

Please feel free to contact me with any questions you may have.

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