Pre-planning Your New Office
by Don Leighton-Burwell, AIA/Tenth Times May 1996

Have you recently surveyed your current workspace and noticed that it falls short of your dream office? Are you tired of insufficient space in your business office, a sterilization area that doubles as lab and staff room, and a treatment area that does not speak to the quality of practice that you provide your patients? Perhaps you have come to the realization that you deserve to have a work environment that truly meets your needs, reduces daily stress and better serves your patients. I will briefly outline some basic issues that you should consider in selecting a new site/space and making the goal of your new office a reality.

Architects, and other design professionals, often begin the process of looking at your needs by establishing a Design Program. This is an inventory of spaces, as well as a review of practice procedures. These variables paint a “picture” of your requirements and assist in establishing the area required for your new facility. As a general rule-of-thumb, most practices require a net “usable” area of approximately 500 square feet per treatment room. Therefore, in an office requiring five treatment rooms, the total “usable” square footage would be approximately 2500 sf (5 rooms x 500 sf = 2500 “usable” sf). This factor may vary depending on the number of treatment rooms and other factors related to unique characteristics of the space or special programmatic needs.

Another consideration in relocating your office is the proximity to your current facility. Generally speaking, several miles in most cities (like Austin) is not a major problem in our car-based culture. However, you should look closely at “psychological boundaries” such as moving north/south of the river, or east/west of IH-35. It is a subjective evaluation in looking at just how much you can transpose your practice and retain the bulk of your current patient base. An intuitive sense of these factors can help you to assess the implications of what a move in your practice might bear.

As you proceed in choosing a site or lease space, you will want to narrow your focus to a specific location. This search can be greatly affected by available land and/or lease spaces within the current market. It should be noted that while a highly visible “retail” corner doesn’t hurt your practice, the cost may not be palatable or commensurate with your project goals. Most practices do very well to be one lot or block away from prime retail corners, and the cost of those properties can be considerably less.

If you are choosing to build a new building, you should be looking for land area that is roughly six (6) times your required usable square footage for the office. In the example above, the five chair facility of roughly 2500 usable square feet would need to be located on a site of approximately 15,000 square feet or roughly one-third acre (6 x 2500 sf = 15,000 sf (land)). In Austin, this rule-of-thumb can be radically affected by our strict environmental/land use ordinances requiring tree protection, storm water detention, additional setbacks, deed restrictions, easements and any number of other factors. Early preliminary planning with your Architect can help to ensure that the site is an appropriate match for your project goals prior to purchase.

Land cost for your project should not exceed approximately $9.00/sf assuming that you are using the factors for land area discussed previously. If your actual land cost is more than $9.00/sf, you may want to consider building more than just your office to mitigate the additional cost. This direction should be taken cautiously, as the success of your project now begins to rely on your ability to keep additional lease space fully occupied.

Regardless of whether your project is a new building or a lease space, prudent pre-planning can help you avoid costly mistakes and make the realization of your project an enjoyable experience.