When building a new facility, it’s important to know your limits and get help early rather than late.
The field of architecture and construction can be very foreign even to those groups closely aligned to the industry. Add the complexities of a scientific laboratory structure and the management of such a project increases exponentially. While it is true that you will (and should) be involved in your project from the start, your most important job is imparting your scientific knowledge and understanding of your lab’s process and protocol to the design team. While you already have a full-time job as a lab director or employee, your role with the design team can feel like a second full-time job. Adding on the complexities of overall project management is not a good use of your time or resources nor do you have the specific background or training to adequately manage such a task.
Many forensic laboratories have additional support structure provided by the municipality for which they serve. This may come in the form of a facilities department or even a staff architect or construction manager, if your municipality has an abundance of projects. While your internal staff may have the capacity and understanding to manage the construction of general public projects, laboratory facilities add quite a bit of complexity and unfamiliarity to the process. Crime laboratories in particular add an additional hurdle of understanding the strict security measures set forth by accreditation bodies and legal proceedings.
Professional project management organizations can address all of these matters and work with you to bring your project in on time and on budget. Because they are hired by you, they become the owner’s representative and act with your interests in managing the various players in the construction process such as the architects, engineers, contractor, and sub-contractors. They may also work with you to schedule procurement of owner-furnished equipment and furnishing items and manage the ordering, delivery, and installation of such items.
The County of San Diego recently completed their state-of-the-art $73M Medical Examiner and Forensics Center facility. Dedicated and occupied in December 2009, this facility employed the construction management company of Project Management Advisors (www.pmainc.com) to manage the construction of this 84,000 square foot facility. While the County of San Diego has a substantial Department of General Services that includes a project management group, they determined a need to hire an outside organization to assist with the management of this project. PMA was hired as a staff extension to this group and came onboard in May of 2007 when the project was in its final stages of design.
Why did the County of San Diego decide to hire an outside agency to assist with the management of this project? According to Mr. Jeff Redlitz, Architect for the County, PMA’s skill set was twofold in meeting the needs of the County. First, PMA had the ability and experience for the scale and volume of this project. While PMA did not have specific experience with Medical Examiner facilities, they did come to the project with extensive complex laboratory experience from the commercial realm. While the County of San Diego does have an extensive public works arm, like most municipalities their experience has been mostly in remodeling or smaller construction projects. Second, the most valuable asset of PMA for the County was their ability to think like the owner. When finding an organization to act for you, it is important to find both a company as well as a core team from that company who share your vision and can adequately represent you in their dealings with the construction team.