Facility Homework

So you you're going to build a new facility for your camp business and you think that the next step is to contact an architect... That would seem like a logical next step, but you might be a lot happier with your finished product and its price tag if you insert one critical step before you contact an architect.

If you want ensure that this facility done right, here is your homework assignment: Write a case statement that describes the scope of your camp business and why you believe you need this new facility.

Doing this homework, before an architect is hired can make an exponential jump in the value of any conversation with design and construction professionals.

I don't think that there is any worse feeling from a business decision than regret. If the homework assignment of a case statement seems daunting, you can follow the process outlined below and it practically writes itself.

Going through the design process without a case statement can help you to avoid design flaws like having an overhanging door to receive food deliveries provides the unwanted (but often used) short cut for people to move from the waterfront area into the dining room or discovering that the type of acoustics in your new multi-purpose facility makes everyone attending the camp musical feel like they have a hearing problem.

Making Your Case

What exactly is a case statement? It gives an architect or design/build professional the big picture about the purpose of your camp business and the physical spaces that support your camp programming. A case statement should contain the following elements:

• The camp business's mission statement -- what your camp experience is all about and the core values of those people who deliver your camp programming.

• A description of your current and future clientele's needs, including age groups, special needs populations, and the type of medical care that is given on-site.

• Listing of current programming, including special events and traditions -- if you have an open house for parents, a talent night for campers and staff members, and a long waiting list for the strength training and conditioning module, give plenty of details about what you want to provide for those programs.

• A wish list of new programming -- a climbing wall for project adventure, a digital studio for campers to create multi-media productions, or more storage to keep up with the growing kayak demand should be included.

• Security concerns -- do you have one central entry point, do the walking paths that campers use have adequate lighting, etc.?

• Who your neighbors are -- do you need a buffer for some of the louder activities? Are the neighbors respecting your property?

• Your existing finance options for the new facility -- are you looking for Green Funding, are you trying to attract a major donor, or do you just have a lot of questions about what your funding options might be?

• Master Plan that shows:

1. Existing camp facilities

2. Traffic patterns and pedestrian circulation

3. Parking

4. Storage

5. Signage

6. Undeveloped property owned or potentially owned the camp business

Gather Opinions

Before the case statement is written, ask for volunteers to serve on a facility focus group (often referred to as a building committee). Members of this group should include a variety of staff people who have first-hand camp experience specifically related to the facility that you hope to build.

Also, if you have a community advisory board, you'll need a person in charge in the physical plant, and an expert on the finances of your camp operation. These people could provide the insights that would help you develop a case statement that provides the big picture for an architect to use as the context for the design of the new facility.

Don't Re-Invent the Wheel

Learn from the success of other camp business owners. Even though you should also make site visits of other camp facilities that are similar to your proposed facility with the architect who you eventually hire, initially you can identify the burning issues that you might face that could make or break your own success.

Simply asking questions about what works and what doesn't and make sure to ask, "If they had a chance to go back to the start of the project, what would they do differently?" will probably open the flood gates of insights that they wish they had known beforehand.

In the short run, you gain a perspective to help you select the best architect for the job; and in the long run, what you might learn from other camp business owners could save you money, frustration, and produce a better facility.

Here are a few ideas that came from other camp business owners who have been through design and construction of facilities:

• Separating the traffic flow of business deliveries from the flow of campers walking to activity spaces to enhance safety and expedite deliveries.

• Planning for where the construction vehicles can park while your camp is in operation can prevent many problems.

• Adding a private staff dining area in the dining hall to ensure confidentiality, which could also be used as a hospitality area for fundraising and smaller group use in the off-season.

Select from the Best

How can you attract the best architects to interview for your project? Keeping the selection process open might require a larger investment of your time, but it also ensures healthy competition, a chance for you to hear opinions from design experts about the viability of your project, and it gives you a chance to compare and contrast the architects' listening skills and the amount of preparation they would give to an interview.

It usually doesn't take long for the word to get out, but you might want to identify the local architects in the area via a listing on the Internet. Then you can add to that list all of the architects who were raved about in your visits to other camp businesses.

The next step would be to mail all the architects on your list an RFP (request for proposal). The RFP should contain a cover letter from you, briefly stating the purpose of the project, your optimal timeline for your architect's selection process, and reference to the attached case statement that details the scope of your project.

Most architects will send a prospectus of the architectural services that they can offer and express their interest in meeting you to discuss your project in greater detail.

Unless you are willing to pay a fee to several architects for a design competition, you should not expect to receive any renderings, design development documents, or a detailed budget specific to your facility.

However, when you invite them for interviews, there are questions you can send to them before they come into interview that can help you to gauge their dedication to preparation, their transferable experience, and their ability to respond to your ideas about what you would like this facility to do for your camp business.

Sample Questions for the Architect's Interview:

1. What experience do you bring to this project that will influence the quality and satisfaction with the finished facility?

2. Given our master plan, walk us through your thought process in advising us on the best site for this facility.

3. What new technologies and design strategies have you used in the past that have:

a. Saved time in planning and construction?

b. Saved money in the total project cost?

c. Solved a major problem in the process?

d. Made the facility more energy efficient?

e. Made the building maintenance more efficient?

4. How would you determine your fee structure for all architectural services required for this facility's completion?

5. Given the size and importance of this project, how often could we expect you on-site, and how do you handle daily communication with the construction company's project manager and us?

Consider it an Investment

Completing this kind of homework before the architect is selected can be bypassed if you decide to go with the heir apparent by rehiring the architect from your last project, or contracting with the architect who approaches you first, or accepting an architect who is handed to you by someone you trust.

However, there is something very valuable gained by doing your homework: input from your staff members who know the camp programming and who might develop into strong stakeholders because they were consulted. You also have developed a relationship with an architect who knows that you are thorough and committed to the project's success.

Dr. Susan Langlois has more than 25 years of experience as a college professor, athletic administrator, camp director and sport facilities consultant. She is currently the Dean of Sports Science at Endicott College.

Bryan BuchkoComment