6.9 Facilities Management

Last updated on 2014/12/11 by Michael Nolan

The center must provide sufficient space and resources to support all the required ERC functions. While contiguous space is ideal to foster team-building, it is not uncommon for an ERC to begin work in temporary space or in widespread locations across the campuses. Even as new facilities are built or adapted, some faculty and students may retain space in affiliated departments, but the goal is to build a cohesive team using shared resources and information. A robust cyber-infrastructure will be needed in addition to experimental, computational, laboratory space and testbeds. The center needs to have a strong commitment to safety and should adhere to policies that ensure standard laboratory safety practices throughout the ERC lead and partner institutions. The lead institution must also provide headquarters space to house the center administrative leaders and to support the management, communication, and cross-disciplinary collaboration functions.


6.9.1 Defining Needs

Identify the center’s long-term space and facility needs early on. Consider the research, education, and technology transfer goals, and anticipate the specialized facilities that might be required to accomplish the strategic planning goals. It can be useful to establish a planning group to define needs, set priorities, and allocate space. There can be advantages to sharing space with other engineering units, but written agreements should be worked out.Some ERCs will have shared labs for specific research groups, while others might have common areas or office space for students. Another option is to rent off-campus space, but be sure to review university policies before making this choice. Remember that the center must also provide necessary services to faculty, students, and others on site. These services may include internet access, keys, telephone and fax services, office supplies, printing, copying, and mail/package delivery.

Key Considerations

  • Office space for administration, faculty, and staff

  • Research labs

  • Testbeds

  • Conference/meeting rooms

  • Seminar or workshop space

  • Student carrels (undergraduate and graduate)

  • Lab and office space for visitors

  • Training facilities

  • Annual Site Review – space for presentations, poster sessions, closed meetings, meals, and executive sessions

  • Storage rooms and closet space

Critical Questions

  • What space is currently available?

  • Is major renovation needed?

  • Has the university pledged to share the costs of renovation or development of new space?

  • Will you need to raise funds for the new space?

  • Will you need to move into temporary space during renovation?

  • When is that space available? What is the impact on research likely to be?

  • Who controls facilities management within the university system?

  • Will you need to deal with an outside architectural firm?

  • Will you need to hire outside contractors?

  • Who will be the “ERC Facilities Manager” during the construction period?

  • Who will be the “ERC Facilities Manager” after the center occupies the new space?


6.9.2 Funding

The ERC must identify the source of funds for the purchase and maintenance of equipment, laboratory renovations, computers, and furnishings. Annual budgeting should always include a thorough re-evaluation of facility and equipment needs. Pursue all available options for matching funds (e.g., university, dean, equipment grants, individual PI grants, private foundations). Space use is a sensitive issue on most campuses and high-quality laboratory space may be especially limited. Encourage realistic consideration of long-term needs.


6.9.3 Building and Remodeling

Plan to have a single point of contact at the center to work with the architect, contractor(s), and building supervisor when building or remodeling. The project coordinator should also work with faculty and staff to oversee construction progress, stage the move, and keep all parties informed of ongoing experiments, research, and teaching considerations. Significant savings can result from careful attention to construction deadlines and costs, so the coordinator will need to be on-site daily and be very detail oriented. Expect some down-time for research and communications systems (phone, computer networks, etc.) and notify all in advance of anticipated service interruptions. Plan carefully for the transition to the new space to minimize disruptions.


6.9.4 Laboratory Facilities/Service Centers

The center may operate laboratories or testbeds as a “Service Center.” This means that user fees are charged to cover the aggregate costs of services. The appropriate university office will work with the center to establish the fee structure in accordance with the OMB guidelines. The rates will be adjusted biennially to ensure a revenue-neutral operation. Maintain records of instrument use, technician time, and supplies used, as this data will be needed to establish the appropriate rate.

Tip: It may be useful to check with existing or matured ERCs that have Service Centers and review their information management systems.


6.9.5 Equipment

Develop an equipment tracking system that will integrate with the university inventory management system. Maintain detailed records of equipment purchases, maintenance contracts, equipment fabrication projects, and documentation of value for gifts and in-kind contributions. Identify funding sources and apportion the costs if multiple sources contribute to the purchase value of one item. Equipment fabrication projects may require special consideration, so work with the institutional property accounting and sponsored research offices. Often a special code is required so that overhead charges and depreciation are handled correctly. Maintain capital equipment authorizations and track actual expenses and the physical location of all equipment, as this is required audit information. Identify maintenance needs for purchased equipment and determine if service contracts are worthwhile. These contracts can be very expensive, but may offer significant savings in down-time, support personnel, and replacement costs.


6.9.6 Staffing/Facilities Management Functions

Assigning office space is an ongoing activity as the center evolves and as people come and go. This function can be managed by the AD and/or a lab manager. A lab manager works with the faculty and technical staff to oversee laboratories and equipment and to handle maintenance, cleanliness, and safety. If the ERC manages a large facility, it may also be important to assign a building supervisor to ensure that lighting, HVAC, fume evacuation systems, elevators, fire alarms, etc., are in working order and that federal/state standards and training requirements are adhered to. The building supervisor will also be responsible for problem resolution and may coordinate group tours.

Tip: It’s useful to keep a building floor plan that shows where personnel are located and a list of service providers or resources for specific problems.