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Welcoming A Lab Sciences Tenant? Here Are 4 Things To Consider


The life sciences boom is showing no signs of stopping. The sector continues to shatter records for employment and venture capital funding, and as a result, demand for lab space is soaring. But before building owners make a move to attract a life sciences tenant, there are some key things they need to consider. 

Jeffrey Janicek, vice president of Skender, a Chicago-based construction firm that regularly works with building owners and lab tenants, said that the needs of lab sciences companies differ from traditional office tenants because of who the company is serving.

“While the building function for a lab takes the highest priority, labs also need to be in accessible locations for employees,” Janicek said. “Post-college and graduate students comprise a large part of the workforce, which is why many startup labs are located near research universities.”

Bisnow spoke with Janicek to learn more about the important considerations building owners need to make before they welcome a life sciences tenant. 

Assess The Flexibility And Structure Of The Building

Janicek said that first, before any other moves are made, it is important to ensure that the building has a flexible layout to allow for access to mechanical piping and vents. Its structure must also accommodate risers, including the space through other tenants’ areas.

“Many structures comprise post-tensioned concrete, and if they have not already included these risers, creating new access space can be difficult and costly,” Janicek said.

The building also needs to have enough power. A life sciences company can utilize approximately five times more power than a traditional office tenant due to the equipment used in the lab space, plus additional loads from surplus extra air handlers, fans, exhaust and electrical load emanating from the equipment, Janicek said. 

“In the lab, it’s all about the density and energy demand of the equipment and the building’s ability to handle that,” Janicek said.

Keep Convenience In Mind

Lab employees often work long, unpredictable hours, so having a plethora of amenities at the building helps increase their comfort and safety when working.

“Lab science workers want to be next to other creative thinkers, so they need collaboration space and a place where they can use a whiteboard to get their ideas out,” Janicek said. “They also have the tendency to want break rooms and lounges outside of the work area, and a lot of spaces have showers and locker rooms for people in the city who are biking."

Janicek said that when leadership assesses buildings for their lab, they tend to scope out spaces with internal parking. This is primarily for convenience and security, as many of the research and executive teams may come and go at all hours of the day and night.

Keep Pathways Clear Of Other Tenants

Since life sciences companies work with specialized equipment and chemicals, they need a process for transporting materials without getting in the way of others who may be walking in and out of the building.

Janicek said that having a loading dock, as opposed to just a front door, is very important for these tenants.

“While it doesn’t take a long time to load or unload products, it’s best to not be intrusive to the other clients,” Janicek said.

A dedicated service elevator for life sciences tenants increases privacy and convenience.

“Many lab science firms in a mixed-use building prefer to have private corridors and service elevators to move their products and deliveries in and out of the building,” Janicek said. “No one is comfortable getting on a public elevator with anyone carrying a package labeled ‘biohazard.’” 

Don’t Get Too Close To Home 

While office buildings may blend in with other city buildings, lab facilities are different. Janicek said that because of the potentially hazardous chemicals these labs work with, it’s important to make sure the lab is in the right location. The lab should be in an area where the chemicals can be dispersed into the air safely, away from residential tenants or other offices.

“The biggest concern is making sure the volume of chemical use in the fans is in alignment with the community in which you’re doing work,” Janicek said. “Most of the chemical load and the amount they’re used is negligible, but you can’t put the exhaust fans right next to a high-rise building that has patios. There needs to be a review of chemical load, impact and volume, and how it will be dispersed in relation to public areas.”

Despite these concerns, Janicek said that most life sciences facilities can fit into most areas, and building owners shouldn’t be too intimidated about bringing these tenants to their city. 

“Labs are getting plugged into uncommon areas or just regular business areas because a majority of them have no greater impact to the surrounding area than any other business and can fill unused spaces,” Janicek said.

This article was produced in collaboration between Studio B and Skender. Bisnow news staff was not involved in the production of this content.

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