By MARK BAY
As promised, we will now address some specific questions for when you have found an existing Radiology Facility or an empty space in an existing building and need to retrofit the space to fit your needs and/or equipment. The following are general rules of thumb and the most important rule of thumb is probably that every space is unique and the solutions available for each space are also unique. Before you commit to a lease for any space you may want to answer some of the following questions by consulting with an MRI/radiology experienced contractor/designer.
Is MRI/Radiology construction different or specialized compared to standard commercial office construction?
The short answer is yes. Much of the construction of an MRI/Radiology facility is the same as standard commercial medical office space. Where the construction is specialized is in the materials used in the specific equipment rooms, the sequence of construction, the space required for ancillary equipment, power requirements as well as some additional engineering design requirements. MRI is an acronym for Magnetic Resonant Imaging. The magnetic field of an MRI is extremely powerful and requires space outside the MRI room to be protected from the powerful magnetic field as well as special precautions required for any item inside the room that can affect the quality of the images produced. Even the slightest variation or error in construction can equate to distorted images and costly repairs. Additional items requiring special attention are used inside the MRI room itself and its location within the existing building. Prior investigation and knowledge of these unique variables are paramount to choosing a facility as well as keeping your project within your budget.
Is the space you are considering an existing radiology facility or is the facility being converted from another commercial use such as an office or retail space?
An existing radiology facility requiring an equipment upgrade may not require interior design alterations but simply a capability to remove existing equipment and replace with upgraded equipment. In this case a structural engineer may not be required. A commercial office space being converted to a radiology facility will at most times require a complete design team including architects and specialty engineers.
What is the construction type of the existing building?
The exterior wall construction of an existing building can have an impact on the design budget as well as construction. The thickness of the concrete slab in the existing building will also have to be evaluated. Because of the weight of an MRI, a conventional four- or five-inch concrete slab may need to be partially removed so a sufficiently thick concrete slab can be installed with proper non-metallic reinforcing steel. If the building has an existing fire sprinkler system, location of the MRI equipment in relation to the main fire sprinkler piping will need to be considered. The fire sprinkler system itself will need to be altered in and above the MRI room which is a costly alteration. Choosing an existing building and changing the use of the space may look attractive at first glance, especially if the rent for that space is more attractive than another location, but the type of construction from the roof down to the foundations can adversely affect your budget if the right questions are not asked. Construction cost overruns can quickly add up if a space is selected by location or rent costs alone. A careful evaluation of the space being considered prior to committing to a lease is vital to a successful project.
How long will design and permitting take?
Most times design and permitting, if starting from scratch, will take longer than the actual construction. The state of the economy is often the most influential variable. When an economy is growing, and the construction industry is booming, designers and labor are in short supply. It is sometimes weeks before a design team is assembled and begins consultation and preliminary drawings. Once the team is assembled, without a central point of accountability, keeping a design schedule becomes the biggest challenge. Every designer has multiple projects and to them one is not more important than another. To owners, theirs is the most important and should be worked on first. One method of keeping this phase of the project on schedule is to hire a construction manager or have an experienced chosen contractor act as a construction manager in the design phase. The perception is that this is an unnecessary cost and a manager is not needed because the project “is not big enough.” If there is a manager during this design and permitting phase of the project, the benefit far outweighs the cost. Delays are costly whenever they occur. When a contractor or an experienced construction manager participates in the design phase, communication between design team members can be more efficient, many logistical and construction issues are eliminated before they happen, plan coordination is more efficient between design team members and the owner, and quite often plan review time is reduced significantly because many of the “issues” that would be brought up by plan reviewers have already been addressed and revisions to plans and resubmittals to permitting authorities are reduced or unnecessary.
In a booming construction industry, the trend is that review takes longer and more submittals (revisions) are required, lengthening the process. The complexity of the plans can also be a factor. This is another argument for having a construction manager or contractor part of the design and permitting team. Quite often a contractor or construction manager will be familiar with the jurisdictional body and can help expedite the process by alerting the design team of items to include that might not ordinarily be included. If you are starting without an architect, you should consider 90-180 days before construction can begin depending on the project and the collaborative efficiency of your design team.
Mark Bay is owner and CEO of Tri-Bay Construction LLC, a Commercial Contracting firm located in Oviedo. Mark is an alumnus of Columbia University and has over 30 years’ experience in the construction business including numerous MRI and radiology facilities throughout Florida. Tri-Bay Construction has partnered with an internationally renowned shielding company, radiology facility designers, equipment suppliers, equipment transporters and subcontractors offering a unique team approach to imaging facility construction. Visit www.tribay.com or email firstname.lastname@example.org