A well-designed vehicle maintenance facility doesn’t begin with design. Rather, says Don Leidy, principal of specialty consulting firm Maintenance Design Group (MDG), it begins with good planning early. That means taking into account a range of considerations, including space, shop layout, bays, maintenance and repair services, parts rooms, shop equipment, utility requirements and vehicle parking areas.
MDG (http://maintenancedesigngroup.com) assists owners, architects and engineers with the complex issues in the design of public works, transit and other operations and maintenance facilities. It is one of the leading firms in the U.S. in the planning and design of transportation facilities.
The initial first step in constructing a facility is to gain an understanding of the user’s needs and building consensus, not initiating the design, he says.
“The planning phase should be one of the most important steps in the entire process, Leidy says. “Understanding your needs is crucial in designing a maintenance facility. This understanding begins with asking questions and doing research.”
Leidy – who has more than 40 years of experience in the industry and is recognized as one of the leading experts in the planning and design of operations and maintenance facilities – offers these useful suggestions that may help guide shop and fleet management through the often-confusing process of building or remodeling a maintenance facility.
Questions and Answers
The following questions need to be addressed, MDG’s Leidy says.
Why is the facility being built or updated?
“The reasons for new construction or remodeling are as varied as the individual maintenance facilities,” he says. “Maintenance departments commonly outgrow facilities that worked well 20 years ago, but are now outdated.
“Downsizing or increasing services, the passage of new laws and regulations and the introduction of alternative fuels can all necessitate change.”
What impact does planned fleet growth have on the facility?
If a fleet expects to grow by 20 percent in the next decade, the major impact to the overall program is employee and agency vehicle parking, says Leidy.
“As a rule, 50 percent of an entire site will be used for parking and circulating 'company' vehicles,” he says. “Twenty-five percent of the site will be used for employee parking. The remaining 25 percent will be required for the buildings.
“Adding 10 large vehicles to a fleet has a bigger impact on the site than adding a repair bay or an office.”
What are the stakeholders’ expectations for a new or remodeled facility?
Leidy says the vision of the facility will shape the final design.
“Do you want more office space, different equipment, better lighting, greater clearance or improved ventilation?” Leidy asks. “A facility in Southern California will have different needs than a facility in upstate New York, so each shop ends up being highly personalized. No two facilities will work the same way.”
Do the Homework
Shop, fleet and fleet maintenance managers are some of the most important people on the design team and must be able to see the big picture, Leidy of MDG notes. Visiting other facilities and talking to other shops and fleets is encouraged. Managers also should keep staff members and any other concerned parties informed, and find out what their expectations are for the facility.
“The second step – building consensus – can make or break a project,” he warns.
Managers should get everyone who has an interest in the project involved in the planning and design process, whether it's the staff, board of supervisors, county commissioners, council members or the public.
“Including everyone in the planning meetings not only educates key players about the process, but encourages ‘buy-in’ or acceptance of the new facility.”
By way of example, Leidy recalls a project in Aspen, Colorado where the neighborhood surrounding the project site consisted of multi-million dollar homes.
“The homeowners were very concerned about the aesthetics of the project,” Leidy says. “To put their concerns at ease, MDG invited the public to attend design review meetings, plus they were included in meetings during the planning process.
“When we began planning this project, construction prices were flat. However, it took more than two years to get the project designed and the bond referendum passed.
“When we were ready to break ground, Aspen was enjoying a building boom and construction costs had risen 40 percent, and so had our budget. Because we had included elected officials and the public in the process, everyone felt like they had a vested interest in the project. They came together to help scale back the building design as well as budget additional funding while still meeting everyone's expectations.”
Planning early is key to any successful project that comes in on budget, stresses Leidy of MDG.
“Equipment selection, layout, utility requirements and finishes need to be considered early on in the process,” he says. “The earlier in the design process needs are identified, the more likely they will be approved and the less they will cost.”
“After construction has begun, additions will require a change order, and change orders are expensive,” he continues. “A compressed air outlet included as an integral part of design may cost $200. During construction, the same line could cost as much as $1,000 to add as a change order.”
“Planning and attention to the smallest detail can prevent mistakes that can hinder the efficiency of a maintenance facility,” MDG’s Leidy points out.
He cites some of the most common mistakes that create problems for vehicle maintenance facility owners and managers down the road.
Lighting – “It's important to choose lighting fixtures that offer a full spectrum of light,” he says. “Lighting has ramifications on the efficiency, functionality and safety of the facility, as well as on the general atmosphere of the workplace.”
For example, he says high-pressure sodium lights may work well outdoors but aren't suited for a maintenance shop. Inside a building, the light's orange-yellow cast creates poor color rendition, making different colored wires look the same and blood indistinguishable from grease.
Overhead Clearance – Ductwork, plumbing and cranes installed too low can encroach on necessary overhead space and interfere with the required unobstructed vertical clearance in the repair bay, rendering cranes and lifts useless.
Door Size – Measure each vehicle's width and height – including mirrors and vertical extensions, advises Leidy.
“You might think that 10’-wide ‘garage’ doors can accommodate a truck that's 8’ wide, he says. “Most trucks usually have mirrors that protrude up to a foot on each side, which shrinks clearance from 2’ to only a few inches.”
Building Finishes/Aesthetics – The bottom 4’ to 6’ of the shop walls should be durable (concrete or masonry) to withstand the abuse in a shop environment.
“Make sure the entire inside of the building – walls and structure – is painted to allow proper building maintenance to extend the useful life of the facility,” he recommends. “Designing the facility's exterior to complement the surrounding environment and adding native landscaping can help gain public approval of the project.”
Expandability – The building should not only handle the shop's current work load, but also should be adaptable and able to accommodate demands 20 years from now.
For example, says Leidy, if additional bays aren't built during initial construction, room should be left on the site to accommodate the expansion. Also, load bearing walls should be avoided to maximize flexibility for future modifications.
Public Involvement – Everyone who has an interest in the project needs to be informed.
“The best-designed project won't get built if it's not approved because an elected official or the public doesn't understand the importance of the facility,” he says.
Appearance – “Form follows function,” Leidy says. “It is always possible to make a functional building good-looking, but it isn't always possible to make a good-looking building functional.”
Peer Review Sessions
During the initial design phase, MDG encourages shop, fleet and fleet maintenance managers to hold a peer review session and invite other managers to a day-long informal review session to ask them to critique the design. During this session, the peers can contribute great ideas and validate the design.
“In the project we did in Aspen, one peer manager pointed out there was no place to push the snow,” remembers Leidy. “We already knew this was a problem because we were working with such a small site. As a result of the discussions from that meeting, we decided to install snow melt into the pavement, which solved the problem.”
Designing a maintenance facility is a complex process, he concludes. “Asking the right questions and planning carefully in advance means shop and maintenance managers will experience a smooth design and construction process that results in a safe, efficient and positive work environment that will last the life of the facility.”