Linx is a LEED Gold certified campus for life science companies. The 185,000-square-foot building offers a highly flexible and efficient research space in concert with a unique array of on-site amenities including a bike room, manicured patios, courtyards, and exterior recreation areas.
Whether adding infrastructure essential to life science tenants or transforming an entire area into an industry-altering ecosystem, life science repositioning enables speed-to-market in a segment of commercial real estate experiencing little to no availability in the leading research clusters.
As the life science sector rapidly advances, the fundamentals of repositioning buildings into life science facilities are evolving as office tenants move away from dense environments. The scope of renewal can vary widely from building to building, but keeping a few important factors in mind can help investors reposition traditional office buildings for life science uses.
UNDERSTANDING REPOSITIONING OPTIONS
Existing Office Building
Life Science real estate is capital intensive. The most economical option for repositioning an existing office building is to start with a typical commercial building that already has finished lobbies, restrooms, elevators, corridors, amenities, and loading docks. Confirming available shaft space, service elevators, floor-to-floor heights, rooftop mechanical, and back-of-house areas offer the potential for an efficient repositioning that can be completed in less time. 95 Greene Street in Jersey City is a great example of this option.
Reusing an existing site for a purpose other than it was designed for is a sustainable solution that supports preservation and breathes new life into an old building. Programmatic placemaking creates a unique environment that inspires creativity and enables tenants to recruit leading scientists. Linx in Watertown, MA, is the adaptive reuse of an underutilized 1980s warehouse buildingthat was repositioned into a campus for science and technology companies. Coined “fun industrial,” the bold and energetic design plays off industrial cues from the site’s history.
Expansion and Renovation
Often, an investment offers the right location at the right price with available FAR requiring project scope inclusive of both a repositioning andanexpansion. For example, what started as an outdated brick office building transitioned into the Alewife Research Center, a transit-oriented development in West Cambridge. By razing the existing three-story structure down to its second-floor plate, four additional efficient floors were added; the entire facility was also clad in a contemporary new façade. Salvaging the second-floor plate allowed the use “as of right.” The site’s FAR was not exceeded, thus avoiding a time consuming public re-zoning approval process. The design team was able to reconfigure the column grid and increase the floor-to-floor heights, unlocking an additional 80,000 square feet of rentable area to maximize the existing zoning opportunities.
If you are interested in a life science repositioning, keep these important considerations in mind.
Ratio of Lab vs Office
Typical life science programs range between 40% office and 60% lab to 60% office and 40% lab. It’s important to determine the MEP upgrades due to this increase in mechanical requirements for the labs.
The location of hazardous storage space has code ramifications on fire ratings for structural elements. The height of a building also has special considerations. High-rise construction requires proper control areas/lab units relative to the building’s use and code. (Control areas/lab units are code defined areas within a building that set allowable limits of hazardous material use and storage; the allowable amount changes by location within the facility.)
A life science facility with vivariums requires cleanroom spaces with separately controlled conditioning and exhausting systems. In buildings with lobbies, dedicated elevators are needed that open directly into tenant receiving rooms. Containment rules require dedicated screened loading docks for animal delivery/disposal, daily bedding, and food deliveries; enclosed loading is important for tenants with animal control facilities.
Establish acceptable locations and access to mechanical and plumbing shafts and risers. New buildings can be planned for locating shafts as needed. In existing buildings it’s important to find appropriate locations for shaft ways based on the existing structural frame. Future slab knock-outs to create new shafts should be pre-planned.
Life science bay spacing is typically on an 11’ lab bench module, but lab layouts can be flexible to accommodate existing structures. An ideal floor-to-floor height is 14’ 6” or taller. Lower floor-to-floor heights require site-specific solutions for ductwork pathways. Typical lab ceiling heights are 9’ 0” clear. Ductwork needs approximately 36” above the ceiling to route supply and return air ducts with plumbing and gas lines. Tighter allowable floor levelness (FL) and floor flatness (FF) criteria are desirable in lab areas.
In addition to lab areas needing a higher live load capacity, laboratories also require increased floor loading, stiffness, and vibration. Lab floor loading is typically 150 lb/sf and may require up to 200 lb/sf for specialized equipment locations. Typical office buildings are designed to limit floor vibrations to 4,000 MIPS (micro inches per second) and labs using sensitive 400X magnification scopes may require a structural frame with vibrations at or less than 2,000 MIPS. Typical causes of vibration are long-span structures and transportation infrastructure adjacent to the buildings.
Core and Shafts
Provide lab-ready bays with available core space that can be utilized for future shafts. Deciding on what is base-building and what is tenant fit-out is important to determine depending on single or multi-tenant floor layouts. Base building shafts are fitted with ductwork that is stubbed out at the shaft wall ready for tenant connections. Tenants may need to access the shafts at time of their construction, which can cause issues with other tenants occupying space near the centralized shafts. Dedicated rooms for PH neutralization systems and process gas storage should be located on ground level for chemical deliveries, storage, and access for maintenance. PH systems may need to be located in pits below the ground floor slab if there is lab space on the ground floor.
High-performance envelopes are required for lab-use due to higher moisture content. Lab uses can be affected by exterior light within the space. Considerations need to be taken when designing the envelope. Security should also be addressed as many tenants are concerned with access and visibility.
Typically, tenants are allocated 10W/SF for power use, most life science tenants require increased primary electrical service; adding standby power to the base building system requires establishes areas for future standby power generators to be located. A mechanical penthouse or additional rooftop equipment space is necessary (and can be rented) for tenant equipment including stand by generators. Some lab uses require increased water supply and sewer capacity particularly if there is any on-site production in addition to research. Lab exhaust studies may be needed to understand how exhaust plumes affect neighboring areas