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Calculating the cost of building broadcast facilities

This has been a big year for the broadcast industry. The conversion to digital broadcast was accomplished, but not without its rough spots for a number of stations. HD broadcast has become the norm. And while 3-D, the big topic at every booth at NAB for the last few years, has now been broadcast on a limited basis, the horizon for the large-scale adoption of the format remains unclear. The reallocation of the broadcast spectrum has not been finalized, and the broadcast industry remains active in defending its needs and voicing its concerns over this planned long-term change in the use of the airwaves.

The industry has also needed to adjust to reflect the realities of the current media marketplace. While the broadcast industry is still the leader in supporting the needs of advertisers, the expanding media options available to advertisers have put pressure on the broadcast industry. Broadcasters have embraced new media with moves as varied as Web producers joining the assignment desk, the encouragement of viewer participation in newsgathering operations and advances in delivery of video on websites. All of this is supported by an expanded new media technical infrastructure. To increase efficiency, broadcasters have sought to embrace this new delivery system and meet the needs of their viewers and advertisers.

The future

The reality is this has been another year where broadcasters have had to react to the near constant level of change in their industry driven by advances in technology and changes in the marketplace. They have thoughtfully adapted to remain competitive. The changes required in the past have been primarily technical. Now as the marketplace changes, and the need to be more productive and efficient within existing real estate and facilities increases, the need to adapt for new uses is affecting broadcasters everywhere. This, combined with the fact that many broadcast facilities were built in the 1960s and 1970s — at a time when the interior space standards were much less efficient than current requirements — means that interior renovations of existing working facilities will continue to be required by many broadcasters.


One additional pressure for rethinking existing infrastructure is sustainability. Broadcasters, along with many other organizations, are realizing that the ultimate benefits of a sustainable workplace are not only tax incentives and energy efficiencies, but also a more productive workforce. A sustainable approach to design and construction has become the norm; companies expect a sustainable approach regardless of the decision to seek formal LEED certification. While the current green ratings are not refined enough for the realities of broadcast facility energy needs, architectural and engineering firms are being directed to take an aggressive, proactive approach to identifying and implementing design and material decisions that are sustainably driven. These choices can alleviate some of the increased financial burden and add perceived, quantifiable value to the broadcast workplace. For major renovations or new facilities, the current construction environment already includes green costs that are not optional. There are significant government-mandated energy and material requirements in place. Introducing green design measures into a project at the earliest phase and continuing the effort with an integrated team throughout the life of the project are far more cost-effective than tacking on individual green additions late in the design process.

Construction cost outlook

As widely reported, construction costs have dropped from previous years. Despite the fact that the market has shown early signs of recovery, costs have fallen about 10 percent to 15 percent overall from 2009 to 2010. (See Table 1.) Although some leveling off is expected, construction costs may actually decrease 10 percent before costs begin increasing as the market stabilizes and begins to recover over the next year. Barring any further economic problems, prices should continue to level off in 2010 and 2011. As the market continues to stabilize, and if project work starts picking up, prices are expected to start increasing. Now is an excellent time to build or renovate a broadcast facility. For some guidelines regarding what type of space a broadcast room requires and the estimated cost, see Table 2 on page 46.

There has been a dramatic expansion in the number of locations around the country that regard themselves, or intend to be, media production centers. These aren't just located in Los Angeles, Vancouver, New York or Florida anymore. Now Louisiana, Michigan, New Mexico, Massachusetts and Connecticut offer incentives for capital and tax relief. The tax initiatives in these states and others suggest that significantly more spending will flow into these areas. Major production firms will likely be the first to capitalize on this.

Construction cost ground rules

Construction costs include all hard construction. As a test, imagine raising the building and turning it upside down. Whatever doesn't fall out (or at least rattle around badly) is part of the hard construction cost. For a broadcast and media production building, construction costs also include:

  • walls and isolated wall assemblies;
  • doors and acoustic doors;
  • acoustic isolation and treatment systems;
  • ceilings and isolated ceiling assemblies;
  • Soft costsmechanical systems and redundancy requirements;
  • electrical power and distribution systems, including service side transformers; backup generators; UPS, PDU and ATS systems; and grounding systems;
  • plumbing systems;
  • Conclusionfire protection systems, including sprinklers and sprinkler booster pumps; pre-action systems; and clean agent systems;
  • architectural lighting;
  • broadcast lighting, including grids; trusses; transformers; and DMX cabling and circuiting (but not dimmer panels or racks);

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  • passenger and freight elevators;
  • long-span construction to create studios and other double-height spaces;
  • raised and accessible floor systems;
  • pathways, conduits, cable trays and termination panels for broadcast, IT and telecom systems. The actual cabling, racks, rack gear, servers, local interface devices, control surfaces and computers are not included;
  • passenger and freight elevators;
  • building management and automation systems;
  • basic building commissioning; and
  • food service equipment.

Construction costs also include landscaping and site work such as parking; utilities up to 5ft outside the building line; general contractor's overhead and profit or construction manager's fee and general conditions. It is customary and prudent to include a design contingency in the construction cost. For more information, see the “Rules of thumb” sidebar to the right.

Major purchased items not included in the construction costs are:

  • general furniture;
  • broadcast, IT, telecom or computer cabling;
  • telephone system, paging or security systems;
  • desktop office computers;
  • broadcast technical equipment, including racks; rack gear; servers; local interface devices or control surfaces; consoles; and computers;
  • broadcast lighting systems, including dimmer panels or racks and lighting instruments;
  • audiovisual equipment;
  • moveable or bench-top testing and repair equipment;
  • ENG or microwave communication equipment;
  • set construction or installation;
  • antennas, antenna design and surveys, or satellite dish equipment;
  • signage;
  • artwork; and
  • expanded or extended commissioning.

Construction cost measures are based on gross square feet — that is, the total built area. Net or usable area is only a portion of what you are building.

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Soft costs

The total project costs include the sum of all of the costs necessary for an owner or client to build a project. These additional construction costs are referred to as “soft costs.” The predictable range of soft costs includes:

  • A/E design service fees and consultant fees;
  • project manager's fees;
  • set design fees;
  • broadcast technical design or integration fees;
  • furniture, fixtures and equipment;
  • construction manager's fees (if used);
  • construction change orders and owner's contingency;
  • legal fees; and
  • permits and filing fees.

The unpredictable range of project soft costs include land costs, financing costs, moving costs and relocation and/or business interruption costs associated with renovations. Together, these could far exceed the cost of construction. These costs are not under the control of the consultants or construction professionals, hence their lack of predictability. Generally, new construction, excluding land and financing, is ≈70 percent to 80 percent of project costs. Renovation construction cost is ≈ 65 percent to 75 percent of project cost.


The most influential construction cost driver in 2010 has been increased competitiveness due to market pressures in local markets. Generally, construction costs can be expected to continue to decrease over early 2009 levels by 5 percent to 10 percent on the East and West Coasts and 15 percent to 20 percent most everywhere else. For those broadcasters considering a renovation or new build out, the current difficult and uncertain business environment has created an ideal time to implement any contemplated construction plans.

Likely market influences that will affect broadcast operations are trends related to converging media, consolidating technology, the emergence of 3-D TV and the continued growth of interactivity/social media. Budgets for broadcast operations are likely to continue to shrink, thus increasing the demand for flexibility in real estate models.

John P. Gering is AIA, managing partner, broadcast design, and Keith Hanadel is principal, broadcast design director, for HLW International. Supporting research was provided by Irwin Schneider, PE, managing director, and Ray Arnold, managing director, of VVA.

Facility type Year 2009 renovation construction cost per GSF ranges Year 2010 renovation construction cost per GSF ranges News-oriented production and broadcast facility (small studio) $280-$325 $250-$300 News-oriented production and broadcast facility (large studio) $300-$350 $280-$325 Sports-oriented production and broadcast facility (small studio) $400-$450 $380-$425 Sports-oriented production and broadcast facility (large studio) $350-$400 $325-$375 Master control/network release facility $350-$400 $325-$375 Video and audio production facility (no live out) $250-$300 $225-$275

Table 1. Shown here are New York City tristate area broadcast and media facility renovation construction costs per gross square foot (GSF) by facility type. Construction costs are based upon union construction, which typically results in higher-quality, on-time construction and therefore, may be more expensive.

Type of space What are their spaces typically like? Type of space needed Interior construction cost per square foot Basic Enhanced High end Newsrooms • Windowed offices
• Open plan
• Electronic library and condensed filing
• 30 percent technology
• 70 percent office
• Secure entry
• 24/7 operations • Class A
• Perimeter core for maximum open space interior offices
• High floor-to-floor height
• Maximum load capacity
• 24/7 operation
• Accommodate raised floor $250 ± $275 ± $300 ± Control rooms • Increased electric
• Increased HVAC
• Specific electrical requirements
• 24/7 operation requiring supplemental air
• Raised floor • Increased structure
• Accommodate raised floor
• Adequate power $325 ± $350 ± $375 ± Studios • Windowless environment
• Gymnasium-type space
• High floor-to-floor height • Large, open warehouse-type space
• Level floor slabs
• Column-free space
• 20ft-30ft clearance height $250 ± $300 ± $350-$500 ±

Table 2. Broadcast facility construction guidelines according to type of space

Rules of thumb for general office/nontechnical interior construction (price per square foot)

  • Electrical $14-$20
  • Light fixtures $6-$9
  • HVAC $14-$20
  • Carpentry (ceilings) $9-$13
  • Carpentry (partitions) $9-$14
  • Carpet $5-$7
  • Millwork (basic) $6-$10
  • Data cabling $5-$7 or $850 per seat
  • Security $2-$3
  • Sprinkler $5-$7

What do you get for interior spaces at $75-$100 per square foot?

  • Carpet (material cost $20/square yard)
  • VCT flooring, vinyl base, ceramic tiles
  • No or minimal millwork (plastic laminate finish)
  • Basic drywall construction
  • Standard 2ft × 4ft acoustical ceilings
  • Standard hollow metal doors and frames
  • Minimal lighting (2ft × 2ft, 2ft × 4ft or high-hats)
  • Minimal architectural finishes
  • Standard paint finished (maximum four to six colors)
  • Basic wall covering
  • No exposed ductwork
  • No exposed structural elements
  • No interconnecting stairs
  • No slab openings
  • Standard pantry appliances

What do you get for interior spaces at $120 per square foot and up?

  • Custom carpet (material cost $40-$50/square yard)
  • Carpet tiles
  • Custom millwork
  • Detailed drywall construction
  • Sheetrock or acoustical ceilings with soffit and fascias
  • Custom doors and frames with sidelights
  • Extensive array of lighting fixtures
  • High-end architectural finishes
  • Specialized paint finishes
  • Custom wall covering
  • Exposed ductwork (round, oval)
  • Exposed structural elements
  • Interconnecting staircase
  • Slab penetrations
  • Ornamental metal
  • Architectural glass
  • Exotic materials (stone, marble, granite, ebony, mahogany, etc.)