Planning Facilities for Modern and Future Use

When planning a fleet facility, consider site location, prepare it for new or future technologies, and review commonly overlooked issues.

May 2011, Government Fleet - Feature

by Thi Dao - Also by this author

The City of Davenport, Iowa's Public Works fleet facility was programmed and designed by Roger Thompson and Jon Wallenkamp.
The City of Davenport, Iowa's Public Works fleet facility was programmed and designed by Roger Thompson and Jon Wallenkamp.
At A Glance
When designing a fleet facility:
  • Choose the right location, and make sure the facility fits the land plot.
  • Determine the number of bays compared with number of technicians.
  • Plan for possible future technologies such as natural gas, nitrogen tire filling stations, etc.
  • Decide how much funding fleet should devote to "green" the facility.

The design of a fleet facility can help or hinder day-to-day fleet operations. Fleet managers looking to build a new facility must take into account various considerations, from the large-scale to the minute.

Roger Thompson, president of Effective Management Decisions, works as a special municipal operational planning consultant with many architectural and engineering firms. During his 16-year tenure as a fleet management consultant, Thompson noticed, "People were working in antiquated facilities or facilities designed by [someone who] didn't understand operations. They designed problems as opposed to correcting problems."

One City asked him to make recommendations to its architect in planning a new fleet facility, and since then, Thompson has worked on the design of more than 80 fleet facilities across the U.S. and Canada.

Choosing the Right Location

"Figure out what you're going to build before you buy a site," Thompson advised. He has worked with facilities wherein land is bought for a good price, and the planning takes place before anyone realizes the site is too small. He's also seen situations with terrible line of sight coming in and out of the site, particularly dangerous for large trucks that take a long time to accelerate and decelerate.

The facility should also be centrally located. "Having vehicles and equipment [travel] long distances to get to the core service facility can cause a municipality millions of dollars over time," he said, especially with the rising price of fuel.

Thompson also advised fleets to get other departments in on the project. By seeking insourcing and partnerships with other departments, such as police, student transportation, public works, or airport, fleet services can also ask for assistance in funding facility construction.

Kueny Architects worked on the planning and design of the City of Davenport, Iowa's Public Works fleet facility.
Kueny Architects worked on the planning and design of the City of Davenport, Iowa's Public Works fleet facility.

Implementing New Facility Considerations

When designing a facility, Thompson recommended  looking at current operation functions and possible future functions. "People were not taking into account changing technology, and I still see this today," he said. "Nobody's thinking about CNG [compressed natural gas] and the building facilities that will have to be altered."

As more and more facilities turn to natural gas for refuse and transit fleets (as well as other vehicles), buildings must be adjusted to be able to handle lighter-than-air gas. To allow room for gas to accumulate in the event of a catastrophic leak, all roof-mounted electrical systems and wirings must be mounted one foot lower than normal to prevent roof blowout. In addition, he recommended blowout panels - in case something happens, individual panels blow out rather than lifting off the entire building roof.

Another consideration regarding natural gas use is setting up the natural gas line for a future CNG compressing station, even if plans are not in the near future. "If you're going to build a new site, why not put it in now rather than a few years along, [when you have to] rip up the site?" Thompson explained. A smaller up-front cost in anticipation of natural gas use will result in large savings later on. He also said to allow space for a compressing station that can compress gas on-site.

Match up the number of mechanics to the number of bays. While some may think extra bays allow for expansion, this can cut into operational cost. "Many operations work on an hourly rate, and that hourly rate is burdened with the space fleet occupies," he explained. "If the space is too great, the hourly rate can go up, and it makes them non-competitive to the private sector."

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