By Matthew Cofone, PE, CEM, LEED AP
Executive Vice President, The Rock Brook Consulting Group, PA
As we adapt to a new way of living and working amidst a global pandemic, the concept of adaptive reuse has been more attractive than ever. For commercial real estate, the strategy of repurposing empty, ubiquitous office space into profitable areas has been a game changer in reducing low occupancy rates and reviving development deals.
The Rock Brook Consulting Group has been challenged by clients on adaptive reuse projects since our founding. Our project experience in this regard touches all market sectors. Some examples include: renovation of office space in a fully occupied corporate headquarters building into a 4 mega-watt data center; adapting vacant big box retail space into a medical office and treatment fa repurposing a former elementary school into archival storage and museum space; and converting a historical mansion and estate into a luxury resort and event venue. Adapting mechanical and electrical infrastructure systems for buildings like these undergoing a change of use requires a great deal of planning and problem solving. It also requires trust between the engineer and the building owner.
In one of our more recent opportunities, Rock Brook partnered with Celularity, a northern NJ based biotechnology company, to convert a 150,000 square feet corporate headquarters office building into a fully validated pharmaceutical manufacturing facility. While Rock Brook’s team of engineers had faced unique challenges inherent to any adaptive reuse project in the past, this one presented additional complications due to the intricate nature of pharmaceutical manufacturing use and a very abbreviated project schedule. The challenges faced included inadequate electrical power, less than ideal floor to deck heights, and insufficient mechanical systems. Celularity, however, recognized that situating themselves in an existing building would preserve open green space and minimize their construction waste footprint. They were committed to constructing their facility within an existing building rather than constructing a new facility.
Rock Brook and its design partners knew success could only be achieved with innovative concepts and construction solutions to accommodate the physical constraints and an aggressive schedule. Celularity challenged us to deliver a finished FDA validated space in ten months; a process that ordinarily would span two and a half years for a project of this size. A typical design process would ordinarily step from schematics to design development, to a construction dock. We knew early on, however, that this would need to be streamlined to work with the significant schedule constraint. We focused early stages of design on long lead equipment, such as air handlers and custom equipment. The design team, in concert with the project owner, contractors, and equipment vendors, decided to define critical mechanical system performance criteria right away so that rooftop air handlers could be purchased before formal design began. Our team understood that ordering millions of dollars of mechanical air handling equipment before there was a design was an immense risk. We collectively recognized, however, that the assembled team represented the best in the industry and, therefore, were confident in the decisions made. The equipment was delivered, installed, and started up on time, but most importantly, performed according to specifications and critical criteria.
Ultimately, Rock Brook and others on the design team were able to demonstrate, through successful operation of the facility, that an office space can indeed be transformed into a peerless, pharmaceutical manufacturing space. Rock Brook is proud to have been recognized nationally for engineering excellence for this notable project. Given the current commercial real estate market climate and the impact of Covid-19, there is significant value to transforming existing spaces to meet modern needs.
20 South Middlesex Avenue
Monroe Township, NJ 08831
8 Penn Center
1628 John F Kennedy Boulevard,
Philadelphia, PA 19103
116 Nassau Street, 5th Floor,
New York, NY 10038