At BioNTX Summit, LPA Lab Planner Focuses on Best Practices for Life Science Development

LPA Director of Laboratory Planning Isabel Mandujano joined commercial real estate experts to discuss best practices, innovation and opportunities in the fast-growing North Texas life science market.

The life science market is booming in north Texas, where demand for lab spaces is outpacing supply. LPA Director of Lab Planning Isabel Mandujano recently joined a panel of property, finance and construction leaders to analyze the future of the market, the challenges and the ability to design a better life science workplace.

Like many areas around the country, North Texas is growing a significant ecosystem to support universities, companies and stakeholders in the region and accelerating the talent and innovation for the industry, said Sam Johnson, senior vice president of Montgomery Street Partners, who served as moderator. “On the developer side, what we are seeing is an ecosystem that is in its very early innings, which bring about significant challenges and risks that need to be managed and mitigated,” Johnson said.

The panel, entitled “The Nuance of Life Science Facilities. How Does it Impact your Science?” also included Grant Carter, president, Carter, Inc; Tim Tench, vice president, business unit leader of life sciences, MAPP, LLC; and Gary Roden, vice president of design build, business development for TDIndustries.

As part of the discussion, Mandujano was asked a series of questions about best practices, innovation and approaches to developing successful, healthy, safe facilities.

Isabel Bio NTX QA 02

What are your thoughts on solutions or strategies for stakeholders to bridge the gaps and meet the growing demand from users?

It’s very important to engage the design team as soon as you have an idea to make sure the space meets the needs of tenants. The pre-design process should include programming, envisioning, gap analysis and test fits. The programming component needs to be inclusive and involve all stakeholders, with data collected throughout the process to help make informed choices. Envisioning captures the big goals for the new space, which serve as a tool for prioritizing decision making to make best use of limited resources.

The basis-of-design is the blueprint that gives building owners and tenants the tools to understand how much space is needed and what criteria is needed to support the science. The gap analysis evaluates potential properties or sites against the gathered programming design criteria to evaluate the best fit for the property. Test fits can also inform how the program fits best in the available space considering the constraints of the site, the structure and the process flow.

We know early engagement in strategic conversations is critical in the process for any facility. How is this amplified when planning for manufacturing?

Manufacturing brings a new level of complexity to the programming phase. The design needs to focus on process flow, throughput and operational improvements. For example, mapping out pathways for waste, people and material streams — spaghetti maps, as we call them — is critical.

When Life Science companies start to consider space — whether they are early-stage and moving out of an academic lab or growing beyond an existing one — what is one critical thing that is generally forgotten or not thought of?

Getting a new space is a unique opportunity to reflect your culture and brand, tell your story to investors, clients and patients; support your mission and instill a sense of purpose to increase employee engagement and motivation.

Isabel Bio NTX QA 01
Isabel Mandujano and Andrea Ingersoll Totte at the BioNTX Summit.

One thing that we often discuss on the developer side is the concept of economies of scale — these specialized facilities require a set of equipment and infrastructure that is really not feasible to construct or add to a building within a small footprint or space, or often for a single tenant. Could you give an example, from a facilities perspective, of when focusing on economies of scale had an impact on Life Science tenants?

Amenitized office buildings frequently include a café and fitness center, in addition to those, it is important to include amenities specific for life science use, such as a loading dock, shipping and receiving areas, and hazardous materials storage and waste holding areas. For small companies coming out of an incubator, it is a big jump to handle all operations themselves. Multi-tenant buildings can pool resources and offer shared operational support and economies of scale that can be very useful for young, growing companies.

Where do you suggest focusing on value-engineering in a way that protects the value of the investment and allows for the best performance over a space over its life cycle? Where do you suggest NOT to cut corners, in the capital investment of your facility, in order to protect your science?

Health and safety requirements are essential to allowing scientists to do their work safely and comfortably. Value engineering should be measured against the goals set in the envisioning phase so that decisions are strategic based on getting the best value for the cost and not sacrifice important goals based on numbers only.

Cost and the timeline of procurement is a major challenge, especially with supply chain dynamics. What proactive measures are you taking to mitigate these challenges for your Life Science projects?

Cost and procurement challenges and supply chain issues are putting pressure on early design decisions, one strategy is design pull-planning in collaboration with general contractor and major subcontractors to have just in time early release packages to procure long lead items. There can also be collaboration in technology. For example subcontractors collaborating in the BIM model can improve design times by jumpstarting the shop drawing process. These solutions are possible with design-assist and design-build partnerships and experienced construction partners.

Life Science users spend a lot of time in mission critical areas that certainly don’t have a “work from home” option. On the developer side, we’ve seen more of a focus on workplace environment to drive recruitment and workforce engagement. How are you improving the workplace with people in mind?

Designing efficient and safe process-oriented spaces sometimes lead to neglecting the people aspect of the workplace. People are the most valuable investment of any company. Employees that are happy engaged and motivated are also more productive and can focus on exploration and discovery that is essential to scientific work. There are several strategies to focus on physical and mental health, including biophilia and creating direct connections to nature, which research shows can have a dramatic impact on the workplace. Access to outdoor spaces, inclusive design and active collaboration areas support the innovative culture and help foster a sense of belonging and purpose.