By Kerrie Julian, RA, LEEP AD, CDT, Director of Science Strategy
Leasing lab space in the metro Boston commercial real estate market – one of the top three in the country for life sciences – can present a journey into the unknown for companies emerging from the incubator stage or any growing company not familiar with the construction process. On any trip into unfamiliar territory, a road map is a requisite tool for helping a traveler steer clear of wrong turns, unexpected hazards, and costly detours. For companies seeking the most ideal space and lease terms for their lab facilities, market knowledge and early programming are the roadmaps to a successful project.
Cresa Boston’s Q2 2022 market report on life sciences juxtaposed low vacancy rates in Cambridge with higher rates between Route 128, the inner suburbs, and Boston. Class A building rents in Boston and Cambridge averaged $100 to $125 per square foot, but lab space is more than twice as expensive to fit out in an existing building than office space. Cresa also advised: “With occupancy delays becoming increasingly common, upfront due diligence on buildings, infrastructure, and the team are critical in staying on schedule and budget.” That’s precisely where lab programming and planning come into play.
Basic Program Information
A commercial real estate broker obtains basic information from prospective tenants to narrow down available options during the site search. This includes location, approximate square footage based on full-time employees, future growth, and desired building infrastructure and amenities. Understanding square footage and amenities are important because although the tenant will only occupy the usable square footage, it is the rentable square footage – a percentage of the property’s common areas – that is used to calculate the lease amount. Many times, lab architects are asked to do preliminary lab layouts or a test fit to validate the client’s space needs and to confirm the client’s overall program and space requirements.
Extending beyond preliminary test fits, lab programming can help determine the client’s needs regarding location within the building, sometimes requiring the lower floor levels of a building, ensuring construction type classification and building infrastructure will meet the client’s needs and comply with all applicable federal, state, and local codes, regulations, and ordinances.
Unique Programming for Lab Space
Planning for lab versus office space is different for a number of reasons, not the least of which is the use and storage of hazardous materials and chemicals. Due to the nature of the work and type of equipment, labs also require increased security and flexible design; place higher demands on HVAC, electrical, plumbing, emergency power, and structural systems; and need generous plenum space for ductwork and piping, requiring higher floor-to-floor heights.
During programming, the lab planner and/or architect will collect and analyze data from the client and specific end users that will not only provide a foundation for the lab layout with respect to square footage, adjacencies, equipment and furniture types and sizes. It will also establish lab and support space standards, identify building system performance criteria, and validate the owner’s existing facilities program strategies.
Timing is Everything
Whether a start-up moving on from incubator space or an established company looking to expand, the time to partner with an experienced lab design professional is as soon as the need for new, more, or different space arises. Identifying the client’s real estate needs is the key to finding the right building and leasing the appropriate type and amount of space necessary to meet their short and long-term business goals.