Learn how to create a place where employees feel prepared to do their jobs safely. - Photo: Barrientos Design and Consulting

Learn how to create a place where employees feel prepared to do their jobs safely.

Photo: Barrientos Design and Consulting

Norman Barrientos, president & principal architect of Barrientos Design & Consulting, Inc., and Jeff Tews, retired fleet services manager for the City of Milwaukee, Wisc., presented a highly informative session on designing the best fleet garage possible at the GFX Experience, held live online Oct. 26-30, 2021. During the presentation, they reviewed seven different aspects one must remember when developing a space that’s safe, efficient, and future-focused. 

1. Defining the Facility Program

When looking to design a facility that will be everything your operation needs to succeed, there are quite a few questions you’ll have to consider. What will you need to accomplish what you want to do in the facility? Are you going to be mainly a PM shop, or do repairs as well? Will there be several different departments headquartered in this location?

“You have to be able to answer all these questions in order to design the space that’s best for you,” Tews said.

Here are a few of the steps one will need to consider before getting started:

✔  Align the facility needs with your operational goals

✔  Identify the type of maintenance program

✔  Identify the main operating functions of the garage

✔  Integrate all departments’ needs and identify common uses

✔  Define facility needs of each function, building, and yard

✔  Analyze fleet composition

Questions to Consider

Repair Garages and Shops

Will you be dealing with heavy-duty, light-duty, or a mix of both kinds of vehicles? Will there be a welding shop, a body shop, and/or a paint booth? How will you store fluids? Are you going to have a tire shop operation as well, and if so, what will your storage space look like?


For a parts counter, you need to consider what kind of security you will need when technicians stop by to drop off or retrieve parts. How will you be ordering parts? Will there be distribution centers throughout the garage for consumable items like nuts, bolts, gloves, and safety gear? What about vendor loading? Will you have a loading dock, or will they pull into the shop?

Parking/Vehicle Storage

Depending on where you operate, it might be a good idea to consider a place where vehicles can be stored at a comfortable temperature, thus making it more pleasant for drivers dealing with freezing weather.

Truck Wash

Will you need one? Whether manual or automated, Tews mentioned it’s something that can extend the life of your fleet.


How will people be operating within the facility? Are you going to need training areas? Do you have an employee fitness program? Do you have a washer and dryer for dirty clothes or will you use a laundry service?

Yard Facilities

Do you plan on having scales, fueling stations, salt storage, and/or vehicle storage?

2. Workflow Efficiency

When planning how your facility will be laid out, you must think about the logical sequencing of activities and how people moving throughout the building will achieve their tasks. This is different for every shop. Diagraming traffic flow will assist you in properly organizing equipment and directing movement through buildings and the yard. This will also help you provide sufficient space for equipment, inventory, and staff.

3. Worker Productivity and Safety

The main objective when planning a facility is to create a work environment that’s safe, conducive, ergonomically supportive, and well-ventilated for everyone.

“You want to provide equipment in the right place, but also at the right height so those who need to can access anything they need to get their job done,” Barrientos said.

Making resources accessible while also keeping work bays clean and comfortable is something else to remember. Ensuring a flat floor is vital for lifts and toolboxes.

Tools and work benches are another critical part for workers’ productivity. You must plan where to put them and, if certain tools need power, where to place their power source. If you weld in your shop, you’ll also need to consider exhaust systems. This is essential to maintaining a healthy shop environment.

Laying out a shop desk for parts where crews or techs can monitor who’s coming and going will help keep materials safe. - Photo: Barrientos Design and Consulting

Laying out a shop desk for parts where crews or techs can monitor who’s coming and going will help keep materials safe.

Photo: Barrientos Design and Consulting

4. Asset Control & Security

Government fleets have millions of dollars’ worth of vehicles and replacement parts. They need to be kept in a secure area that’s well monitored. Laying out a shop desk for parts where crews or techs can monitor who’s coming and going will help keep materials safe.

“It’s also important you consult with your parts crew. Let’s say you’re running your own parts facility, or maybe you’re contracting that out. They would definitely have to weigh in on any kind of design because they’re in charge of the security of those assets and parts rooms. You have to be especially vigilant about who can access their areas,” Tews clarified.

You’ll want good lighting and a canopy for fueling operations. Protect your employees from the elements with some kind of enclosure if possible.

5. Supervision and Communication

You’ll want to lay out the garage so there are clear visual lines as well as audio visual equipment that allow you to view and track who’s coming and going on the property. Cameras are important. Being able to zoom in on, say, a fueling site, with recordable playback where you can actually verify if there’s any activity or what that activity was at what time can help fleet managers stay vigilant and ensure nothing out of the ordinary is occurring.

Tews recommends using a point, tilt, and zoom (PTZ) camera, which can record wide areas.

6. Building Performance Sustainability

The architectural treatments and assemblies used in a garage to sustain all the activities therein are what keep the building durable. You want a building that can be cleaned easily, resists salt and other chemicals, is sustainable, and runs efficiently.

Include natural lighting if possible, or more current LED lights; safe walk aisles; and sustainable HVAC exhaust systems throughout. Inside the garage, you want space that’s well lit, slip resistant flooring, and a fair amount of space between service bays so techs can walk between vehicles or their work benches and tool boxes. Keeping spaces well lit isn’t just for safety; it can help improve moods as well.

7. Integrating Future Trends

As you design your garage, you obviously plan for what you’ll need now. You may look around at what your peers are doing and decide that’s what you’d like for your garage. What you must not forget to do is look toward where you might be headed in the future. 

“As a professional who has designed a lot of garages, I see ones that are maybe 20, 30 years old that already have not anticipated technology or other trends that are changing and affecting the garage and making them less useful,” Barrientos explained.

He then categorized future preparation into four areas:

  • Technology and equipment
  • Governmental and regulatory
  • Social and community
  • Pandemics and social distancing

Part of preparing for the future is planning for electric vehicles. You must have an idea of how many of those vehicles will be deployed, where to park them, and how they will be charged. Some of the other EVs coming out, such as refuse equipment and larger trucks, will definitely need more space and charging capacity.

“What we see right now could change drastically by the time it becomes more mainstream,” Tews said.

Barrientos replied, “As architects, we foresee this affecting the layout of garages. Where do we put the charging stations? How do we allot for space for what would be more electronics repair and less combustion line repair? That would also affect what you stock in the garage as well. It will have a ripple effect on your physical facility.”

Automation is becoming more prevalent given the amount of technology and telematics used to run more efficient fleets. Do you have a control area this can take place in?

“We’re trying to monitor routes and optimize them, dispatch vehicles, and respond to emergencies that come in from the field. Telematics allow us to find out what’s going on with our vehicles out on the road. If the check engine light goes on, you get an immediate notification about it and you can decide whether or not you need to have that vehicle brought in immediately or can it work to the end of the day,” Tews said.

Barrientos mentioned social trends are affecting building design, as there are now more women joining the workforce. This affects gender privacy and security issues. There needs to be parity in the locker rooms, bathrooms, and showers.

Staff need to feel safe. They are sometimes working alone at odd hours of the day, and doing jobs in a large, cavernous garage can be daunting no matter your gender if the building isn’t properly designed. Do you have plans for an active shooter situation? What are your methods to deal with that possibility, and what does the floor plan look like?

In a time when operations are struggling to attract and retain a newer, younger workforce, fleet managers may want to consider advocating for better amenities and a healthier work environment as well.

Editor's Note: This article was originally published on 5/15/21 and updated on 9/1/23 for accuracy.

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Lexi Tucker

Lexi Tucker

Former Senior Editor

Lexi Tucker is a former editor of Bobit.

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