Today we’re going to talk about services garages. While some may consider these bland, unexciting buildings, they are actually highly important, unsung heroes of municipal infrastructure. They operate in the background, commanding little attention, yet facilitating critical functions. In the event of a potential calamity such as a snow emergency or water main break, these facilities allow maintenance personnel to respond quickly and effectively, so that residents and workers can continue to go about their business. What’s more, not one is like another.
Having completed over 20 of these buildings in the last 15 years, we understand that while they may all have similar components, the ways in which they are specifically designed are vastly individualized. Thinking through these specifics is crucial to success. Without further ado, here’s a look at the “what” and “how” of service garage design. First, let’s go over the usual pieces and parts of these buildings. The average service garage may have:
- Maintenance – general or specific
- Maintenance Bay(s)
- Wash Bay(s)
- Operations Support
- Locker rooms
- Break room
- Back-Up Power
- Access controls
That’s a fairly short list and it looks pretty simple, but if we do our jobs right during the discovery and assessment phase of a service garage project, the actual design becomes much more involved – all to ensure the building truly meets its functional goals and does not swap old usage problems for new. Additionally, we look for ways that the building can facilitate not just construction cost savings, but also operations savings. Here is what we investigate:
- Why is the client undertaking this project? Is the building too old? Too small? Does it have the wrong types of spaces? Do they need more than one facility?
- Type of construction project. Is the client renovating, expanding or building new? Whichever direction we’re heading, there are a plethora of items to investigate/plan for.
- Type of service garage. What type(s) of facility will this be? Is there maintenance and if so what do the personnel stationed at this garage do? Roads? Water? Fueling? Is it primarily for vehicle storage?
- The staff. Who is going to be operating out of this facility? What is their culture like? What do they like about their current building and what do they want to see changed? If there are multiple departments sharing the building, can they share resources and/or space? Are there any vendors/suppliers that service the facility, such as salt or fuel delivery? What are their needs (e.g. a site that can accommodate a certain size of truck)?
- Needs vs. wants. What types of spaces and amenities are essential? What would be nice to have? For example, do they need vehicle bays? How many? How about offices? Laundry facilities? And what about lockers? Perhaps like one of our previous clients, they need two types of lockers – dirty and clean. There are always the “nice to haves” as well if it is workable with the budget. This “wants” list could be endless, including having multiple service bays because one just isn’t enough or something as simple a window in a room so the director can see an area without leaving his or her office.
- Geographic coverage area. This is important to account for during planning. The coverage area the station services will determine things like: how much salt they need to store; how many trucks there will be; whether there should be one site in the middle of the coverage area or two sites located east/west or north/south.
- Style. Do they need to follow a certain architectural style to fit in with the rest of the public buildings? Is the style a result of functional needs or the budget that the project needs to fit within? Often it is requested that the building be a metal building system with a CMU base for durability. We use these criteria items to develop an aesthetically pleasing building that also functions as intended.
- Equipment. Is the client bringing old equipment? Buying new? Do they need generators? What kind? Will they have a crane? What kind?
- Location. Location makes a difference in many ways, especially with regard to:
- Power needs - Will the facility be located in a residential area? If so, power needs to be accounted for. Transformers and additional feeds may need to be added. Can the power supply accommodate a 480v generator?
- Security needs - Does the site need to be gated? At one of our service facilities, the impound lot is located on the same site, so they needed it to have a high, barbed wire fence. And it’s not always just the site that needs to be locked down, sometimes it’s certain rooms. Another building we did had a tool room that only certain people could access due to previous issues with theft.
- Future growth/change. Are there any process or operational changes in the near or far future? For example, we had a client who was currently getting five deliveries of salt but wanted to have a dome big enough to get one large delivery. They were planning to change to one delivery once their current contract was up because it was less expensive.
- Budget. Most critically, we need to work through accommodating needs/wants with the clients’ budget. We have worked with all kind of budgets and have always been able to massage the wants/needs into a building that works; however, expectations must be realistic. Sometimes there are things a client wants to do that they cannot afford right now, but we can design the building such that they can be added in the future, similar to a new residential home having an unfinished basement that is plumbed for a bathroom and wired for a home theater system.
While some architecture and engineering professionals may not find these buildings to be glamourous work for their portfolios, we get really excited about them. We know how crucial they are to fulfilling our municipal clients’ missions and we therefore take the time to analyze the ins and outs of their current and future usage to ensure they are designed for success.
This article is by Jen Kalin, RA, LEED AP, Architect and Senior Project Manager. Jen has over 10 years of experience in public, commercial, manufacturing, and residential buildings and facilities. Her experience includes programming, schematic design, design development, construction documents and construction administration. She has the capability to provide interior design/interior architecture services. Her portfolio includes new construction, renovation, and expansion projects.