A few years ago, Sealander Architects was hired by the Maine Bureau of General Services (BGS) to provide an assessment of a state-owned building. We were helping with a facility decision: Does it make more sense to keep the current use in the current facility, or move the current use to a new facility?
This type of facility decision is common. Organizations frequently wonder whether they should abandon their facility for better digs. Not surprisingly, there are quantifiable and less than quantifiable factors to consider. Our ostensible purpose as architects is to help document the quantifiable factors that go into facilities decisions. At the same time, we hope to contribute to the conversation that uncovers the true motivation for hiring us in the first place
As a case in point, I was involved with an assessment of the former Safeway headquarters in Oakland, California. A potential buyer hired us to provide due diligence on the purchase. After digging around, we realized the facility had significant amounts of asbestos present, as well as leaky underground storage tanks that had polluted the site. Was this why Safeway abandoned the property? The asbestos had been present for years. The LUST likewise was several decades old. It occurred to me that these issues were factors for abandoning the building, but perhaps not the reason they did so. They were rationalizations. Safeway as a brand had outgrown an outdated building. Management recognized this and sold the building, moving into a new headquarters.
Likewise for the State of Maine-owned property we assessed. The building was not in bad shape. We demonstrated it could be renovated for a fraction of the cost of a new building, or even a relocation to another building. The state organization had simply grown tired of being in the building, and they were eyeing an offer to move to a more desirable building. They were hoping to demonstrate quantitatively what their wishes were telling them: happiness would come from moving to the new location.
So it goes for many facilities decisions. There are rational ways to make a facility decision. Does the building serve its intended purpose? Could it, with some modification, serve its purpose? Those are relatively straightforward questions, with defensible answers. In reality, an organization’s leadership may realize on a gut level that moving to a new location is buying them a chance to reenergize or even transform the organization in a way that staying and renovating will not. An extra $1 Million might be worth the psychic benefit a new facility will bring. Psychic benefit is not easy to quantify; only leadership can make that value judgement.