The Master Plan: a blueprint of the future

Most television stations in the United States were constructed between the 1940s and 1960s. Over the years, these stations have undergone many structural and equipment modifications, often within the confines of the existing building. The result is all too familiar to the owner, general manager and staff: an overcrowded facility with overtaxed and inefficient mechanical and electrical systems, a warren of old wiring beneath the floors and a poor functional layout.

This situation is especially unworkable today, as news branding is becoming crucial to revenue and digital is replacing analog broadcast equipment. The need is clear: a broadcast television station must have more space, properly configured and operationally effective, with the flexibility to accommodate new and emerging technology.

But there are many questions: Do we expand and upgrade the existing facility or build a new one from the ground up? How much time and money will each option cost? How do we get there from here? The master planning process provides the answers.

What is master planning? Master planning, when undertaken before design of a renovation or new facility, allows owners to make solid business decisions about their broadcast facilities and equipment. It is an information-gathering process in which a team comprised of a project director, architect, mechanical and electrical engineer and systems integrator conduct interviews and a building walk-through with a station owner, general manager and other personnel who are part of the station's facility planning project team.

The project design team interviews station executives to learn general requirements including cost and timing, as well as their perspectives about other issues, including station image, corporate culture, growth, change and design. The project design team combines this information with statistical data to develop the size and adjacency requirements for space and infrastructure.

While the final design may take many forms, the master planning process addresses the common goals of broadcast facilities:

- promote communication within the organization;

- enhance adjacencies and production workflow;

- provide flexibility necessary to adapt the workplace to future staffing and technical requirements;

- provide for the desired image of a quality, professional organization;

- provide the necessary tools and amenities to accommodate functional requirements; and

- reduce costs and increase production reliability.

Programming: The first step The first step in the process of developing a master plan is programming - asking the station to define who it is and what it does. The project design team will do a building walk-through and interview members of the owner's project team to identify the overall project requirements: staffing, technical, electrical/mechanical, and site requirements; the owner's overall vision for the project; arrangement of and among departments; and cost and timing issues.

Both general and technical questions will be asked, such as: What is your mission, your culture? How long can you afford to be off the air in case of a power interruption? How many newscasts do you do? How many control rooms do you need? Do you do post-production? Where do you see your station in five to 10 years? If the owner has a preference or a need to remain in the existing facility, the project design team also will survey existing conditions.

From this the team will develop a preliminary program, which will have the following elements:

- Overall production workflow analysis;

- Program matrix listing, which includes department/functional areas, overall square footage, number of personnel, UPS, generator requirements, and the estimate of BTU and wattage requirements per square foot;

- Architectural space program, which includes the rooms/area/technical space, sizes of rooms, furniture requirements and equipment requirements;

- Preliminary design and construction schedule; and

- Mission statement defining overall project goals and vision.

Development of the preliminary program requires about three weeks to complete, on average. The results provide a rough guide to the size of the facility, as well as mechanical/electrical system requirements - no small item given that the mechanical system alone may comprise as much as 30 percent of the total space of a broadcast facility. The preliminary design and construction schedules are conceptual. There are no drawings at this point, and the schedule is outlined in broad terms.

Renovate or move? A big issue during this stage is the question of whether to renovate the existing facility, buy and renovate a larger existing facility, or build new on a bare piece of property. If the entire station is in need of renovation, it is generally less expensive and faster to build a new building than to attempt renovating an existing building. This is true whether the existing building is your current station or an empty existing building available in the open real estate market. This is especially true if the existing building is a non-broadcast facility, for reasons related to architecture, technology/flexibility, core and shell, mechanical and electrical systems, fire protection, construction process, and insurance costs.

Architecture Unless the facility was built as a television station, very few existing buildings fulfill the unique functional requirements and volumes of today's broadcast facilities. Often, costly structural retrofits are required to meet the space requirements. Existing non-broadcasting structures rarely have adequate ceiling height, especially for sound stages. The functional integrity of the technical plant and other broadcast functions may be sacrificed; for example, a technical plant may end up requiring long cumbersome cable runs and broadcast functions that should be adjacent to one another but are not.

Technology/flexibility One of the most important advantages of new construction over retrofit of existing buildings is the flexibility that can be designed into new facilities. Existing buildings were not designed to handle the intense requirements of broadcast technology. The requirements for mechanical systems, electrical systems, broadcast cable, grounding, UPS and acoustics can overwhelm an existing building. In contrast, a new building can be designed for flexibility and growth in such a manner to allow for minimal disruption when it occurs. Digital broadcast is a changing industry, which demands flexible facilities.

Core and shell building In existing buildings, whether a current TV station or a non-broadcast structure, base building components may require expensive retrofits. For example, stairwells and rest rooms must be upgraded to meet ADA requirements. Roof membranes and elevator machinery often have reached the end of their life cycles and must be replaced. The exterior facade is deteriorating and must be repainted or replaced. Low ceiling heights cause serious problems in access floor areas, limiting space for cabling, ramps, set lighting and the mechanical system.

Mechanical systems The mechanical systems in most existing buildings are nearing the end of their effective life cycles. Additionally, existing non-broadcast structures generally do not meet the needs of broadcast facilities, and these buildings often do not have enough space to accommodate the appropriate new systems. The heat loads generated by broadcast equipment and stage lighting require, at a minimum, additional cooling tonnage. Typically, the replacement of all ducts (except in office areas) and the mechanical plant is also necessary. Redundant cooling is required in case a chiller goes down or is turned off for routine maintenance.

Electrical systems Broadcast facilities also have unique electrical needs: large amounts of kilowatts, a reliable transformer or two, a large UPS system, larger than average generators and fuel tanks, reliable switchgear designed without a single point of failure, lightning protection, and a new grounding system. Most existing non-broadcast structures were not designed to meet these types of critical reliability needs, and if they are present they are often nearing the end of the effective use and must be replaced.

Fire protection Most existing buildings have wet pipe fire protection systems, which must be retrofitted with a dry pipe system or chemical systems to protect digital equipment.

Construction process Because in complete renovations every hard system (mechanical, electrical and plumbing) and, potentially the structural system, must be modified or replaced, the building is virtually stripped in large areas to its core and shell. In existing broadcast facilities this type of renovation must be carried out in several phases, adding additional time and cost to the project. It also produces strain on the staff and interferes with the production process. This, in turn, affects the bottom line. In existing non-broadcast structures, often all you gain is a minimal core and shell that is not ideally suited for broadcast. In either case, at best, the process is not fun.

Furthermore, all existing structures run the danger of encountering unforeseen construction costs, and usually do. Bids from contractors are often higher in existing structures because of unforeseen conditions and "out of sequence" construction patterns. In new construction, unforeseen conditions are almost non-existent and construction sequencing is in a logical linear pattern.

Insurance costs An underwriter often will give a more favorable insurance rate on a new building that clearly meets its requirements than an existing building that just comes close.

However... Many successful renovations of existing broadcast facilities have been completed. Often, the owner must remain in existing facilities for one reason or another, and it is the architect's job to make it work. The master planning process helps make this possible. In the best situations, the owner has adequate land to build a sizable addition for technical production functions - the newsroom and central broadcast plant - leaving the original space to be renovated for "soft" functions like conference rooms, lunchrooms and administrative offices.

After the project design team and owner meet to review the preliminary program, adjustments and modifications have been made, and unresolved issues have been further defined, the project design team will complete the preliminary program.

The completed program will continually develop and be modified by unforeseen changes and new information. The documents that will be modified most often will be the architectural space program and BTU/electrical matrix.

Site due diligence As part of the master planning process, the A/E team will perform a site due diligence study on the existing site or provide a "Site Requirements" statement for use by a real estate acquisition team. A caution about real estate brokers: All too often, a broadcast television owner will contract with a broker to find a suitable piece of property for a new broadcast facility - sometimes even completing a purchase - before even consulting with a qualified A/E firm to perform site due diligence. This can be a disaster. The following items must be addressed in the site due diligence process:

- Traffic study;

- Utility locations and quality;

- Available power (redundant grids);

- Zoning analysis;

- Environmental study (Phase 1);

- Special restrictions;

- List of site assets;

- Aesthetic potential of site;

- Satellite uplook;

- Microwave path;

- News platform views;

- Heliport restrictions;

- Security problems;

- Deed restrictions (from owner);

- Employee amenities;

- Construction cost issues;

- Soils report;

- List of potential problems and possible remedies; and

- Complete building code analysis.

Schematic design At this point, the A/E will produce site test plans and schematic floor plans for each of the desired schemes. Alternatives to these schemes also will be produced. Each scheme should reflect the A/E's keen eye on the issue of production and workflow. The pros and cons of each scheme from a design, construction, technical and production flow point of view will be addressed.

Modifications and additional test plans will be developed as required by the owner's review. A final report will be produced with a complete due diligence report for each scheme, and a final design scheme recommendation will be made. A cost-benefit analysis for each scheme will also be part of this phase. A preliminary construction schedule will also be developed.

Final presentation report Finally, the A/E will produce a final executive presentation report customized to the needs of the client. It will reflect the prime scheme, or a comparison of schemes, as required. The report will include, but is not limited to:

- Image statement describing aesthetic design goals;

- Statement of overall project goals;

- Flexibility statement describing proposed needs for flexibility and future expansion;

- Space standards;

- Department summary;

- Architectural space program;

- Digital renderings of proposed building;

- Schematic site plan;

- Schematic floor plan;

- Building design concepts;

- Planning concepts;

- Site review statement;

- Preliminary zoning and code analyses;

- Description of structural specifications;

- Description of mechanical/electrical specifications;

- Schedule;

- Cost estimate; and

- Cost analysis.

A blueprint The result of the master planning process is a document that summarizes the findings and, after review and revision by the owner's team, establishes the proper direction for design of a facility. Whether it is a renovation, expansion or new facility, the master planning process ensures that the facility will be designed to serve the broadcast television station well into the future. The master plan is a working plan that remains a resource for all those involved in the further development of the project, in essence, a blueprint of the future.

1. Understand your company goals, both short term and long term.

2. Develop a project program and master plan suitable to your business culture.

3. Investigate all options early in the project (attach price and time to options).

4. Utilize a core project team early (architect, MEP, systems integration and pricing capabilities); i.e. don't pick a site without thorough due diligence with qualified professionals.

5. Develop systems to acquire basic facts without getting lost in minutia:

- establish gross heat and electric loads;

- establish redundancy requirements using business sense; and,

- establish rack counts on air day and in future .

6. Establish a schedule that makes business sense and will work in the real world.

7. Attach a price and time to all options.

8. Simplify and reduce costs.

9. Don't disregard image - you're in the image business.