One of the most important times in a project’s lifecycle is the concept design phase. During this phase, the clinical program and project space requirements are defined. One item that is often overlooked during this phase is the mechanical and electrical system requirements. While they may seem insignificant in terms of clinical process, mechanical, electrical and plumbing (MEP) systems have significant effects on the quality of care delivered to patients as well as the project budget and long term facility operating costs.
There are many benefits to integrating the MEP design team early in the project development process. As the architect discusses program and patient and staff flow priorities with the clinical staff, the MEP design team gains an understanding of the clinical expectations and workflow processes. The engineering team can utilize this information to identify MEP system solutions and space requirements that support the clinical project goals. For example, the clinical program may define spaces that require significantly more airflow than the existing HVAC system can provide. In order to meet the air exchange requirements of the FGI Guidelines for the Design and Construction of Health Care Facilities, an existing air handler may need to be replaced with a larger unit, or supplemented with an additional unit. In either case, being able to identify this requirement early in the process helps both the design team and the Owner account for the additional space requirements and budget impacts.
In addition to helping define project space requirements, the MEP design team can provide specific equipment and system solutions that support the clinical use requirements. For example, understanding how clinical staff intends to use a treatment room can help a lighting designer select the right light fixtures and lighting control strategies. In some rooms, it may be beneficial to have multiple switch locations to allow staff to control the room lighting levels without having to leave the patient space. In other spaces, the staff may want to have a single point of lighting control to minimize staff confusion.
As you can see, MEP team involvement during the concept design phase is extremely important. Without it, the project runs the risk of providing inadequate MEP support space to meet regulatory requirements or developing an MEP design approach that is not congruent with the clinical staff processes. In order to ensure that your project runs smoothly from concept to completion, it is important to think about the related MEP requirements as early in the process as possible to reduce the risk of hidden surprises in terms of space allocation and budget overruns later in the process.