Considering a building project? Here’s how three businesses started the right way

This piece is presented by TSP.

Chad Poppe was feeling growing pains. His startup, Bion Companies, had been renting space in a typical office building. But Bion’s focus on laboratory science makes the group anything but a typical client.

“We’d gone down the path with a developer and had floor plans to fit out another office suite in a spec building,” said Poppe, a co-founding partner.

“We were working really hard to fit in this space, and the building should work for us instead. We started thinking about a new space, but we didn’t know how many square feet we needed, what should be arranged where or how to get plans drawn up for what we wanted. It was really a learning curve.”

That’s saying a lot, considering the advanced science Bion Companies carries out each day. The family of entities specializes in testing biofuel components and creating the known standards and reference materials that alternative-energy labs use to validate their measurement methods, calibrate their  instruments and analyze product quality.

The company’s leaders simply were out of their element.

Paul Boerboom

It’s a familiar start for many projects, according to Paul Boerboom.

A principal and senior architect with TSP Inc., Boerboom helps clients get to the heart of how they want their environments to function. Whether they realize it or not, those clients usually need more than the extra rooms or updated interiors that bring them to an architect’s door.

Each design project presents the opportunity to discover what works, what doesn’t and why clients use their existing spaces the way they do. The layout and look of new or renovated spaces actually comes later, even though talking about the end products is what excites most clients initially.

Early visioning and planning

“I’ve taken many calls over the last 39 years from people who say, ‘I just need a set of blueprints. How much will that cost?’ ” Boerboom said. “I tell them, ‘Let’s back up about 10 steps.’ It can be really helpful to stop and think about that high-level vision and goals — the big ideas — before we get into specific planning and design concepts.”

TSP helped Bion map out its space programming.

Skipping those early steps can be a costly mistake. TSP principal Mike Jamison calls the getting-to-know-your-business visit “the most valuable hour you can spend on a project.”

“We sit down and have a conversation about what they need to come out of this project today and in the future,” Jamison said. “There’s real value in having a dialogue with someone who can help plan and program the kind of spaces that can solve those problems, before they firm up their assumptions about what they think they need.”

Jamison and architect Jason Kann visited Bion’s current office with a low-tech — but highly effective — exercise: Paper cutouts sized to represent the square footage required for each type of functional and support area. The tool helped Bion’s team visualize which spaces to group together and how to control access to the more sensitive rooms and equipment.

The right piece of land

Farron Pratt learned just how much goes into those early stages when he worked with TSP on a new site for First Dakota National Bank in Vermillion. As branch president, Pratt needed to verify whether a parcel of land acquired by the bank would be a good fit. He envisioned a destination center that included a coffee shop and other tenants to draw traffic.

“Before we even got into how spaces inside the building might work or be arranged, we needed to go through multiple renditions to look at parking, traffic flow and entrances,” Pratt said. “We actually determined that we had to add another parcel to do what we wanted and make it a complete project.”

Architect Kann overlaid each parcel’s map with an outline of the building’s footprint. That helped Pratt’s team see how each configuration could be optimized. Inspiration also came from touring modern banks with other First Dakota leaders and Ron Mielke, a TSP project manager whose background is in construction services and engineering.

“Ron really quizzed us on what we were looking for, what we wanted in our building and why we thought those things would work here,” Pratt said. “A lot of people come in now and say, ‘Wow! This feels like something you’d find in Minneapolis or Chicago.’ ”

Guidance during bidding and construction

Nonprofit leader Darryl Nordquist moved Special Olympics of South Dakota to a new site and office building created through the design/build method. A newer project, the Unify Center, required a different approach. The athletics facility is the first of its kind in the nation, dedicated to Special Olympics programming.

“We understood the whys and the reasoning behind every decision we needed to make, and that was very helpful,” Nordquist said. “Nothing was too out there. We felt like we could bring up anything we wanted to try to do with this, and we’d get the advice we needed to determine whether we could make it happen within our budget.”

Nordquist also valued TSP’s ability to coordinate the bidding process, freeing him up to “compare apples to apples” in a way that wasn’t possible in his previous design/build experience.

“TSP draws the plans, decides which items are in which packages that get released to bidders, answers questions from contractors and really takes charge of the whole process,” he said. “There was tremendous consistency among bidders that way.”

Special Olympics of South Dakota opened its Unify Center with a ribbon-cutting one year ago this month. Nordquist credits careful front-end work for the positive outcomes.

“I could be sitting here now and saying, ‘I wish we would have done this or that.’ And so far, there isn’t anything,” he said. “We accomplished as much as we possibly could.”

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Considering a building project? Here’s how three businesses started the right way

Think you just need a set of blueprints before starting construction? Back up a few steps and see what can happen when you start a project this way.

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