Pictured is a rendering of the City of Coral Gables, Fla., transit maintenance facility, currently in construction. Image courtesy of the City of Coral Gables, Fla.

Pictured is a rendering of the City of Coral Gables, Fla., transit maintenance facility, currently in construction. Image courtesy of the City of Coral Gables, Fla.

At a Glance

Some points to consider when constructing a maintenance facility are:

  • Search for maintenance facility requests for proposal online and seek out others who have recently built new facilities.
  • When choosing a location, anticipate the physical limitations of the space. Take environmental groups and homeowner's associations into consideration.
  • When designing the facility, plan for future fleet growth, including the addition of alternative-fuel vehicles.
  • Include specified equipment, such as lifts and fluid recover systems, into the overall cost of the facility.

Of all the major projects a fleet manager could ever be required to manage, building a new fleet facility will be the most complex. There are numerous details that should be taken into consideration before approval of the final design. Simply relying on an architect’s plan may get the fleet into trouble, especially if the resulting facility fails to meet operational requirements.

What makes this project so rewarding is that the fleet manager has the opportunity to design a facility that best fits the fleet’s specific needs. To do this, know what is needed before the design work begins. Start this project by drafting a site and facility plan. List all critical elements of the plan in the priority needed.

Draft an equipment listing and specify the equipment type, manufacturer, and model numbers. Because these types of projects are normally funded through a capital expense that is amortized over many years, the equipment specified should be included into the overall cost of the facility. Because there will be no direct and substantial impact to the yearly general fund budget (other than the debt service payment), the agency may fund what the fleet needs, which therefore increases the likelihood of the fleet manager getting what his or her department wants. Search the internet for fleet maintenance facility requests for proposal (RFPs) and seek out others who have recently built new facilities. Ask them what they may have done differently and whether they would  have changed any of the facility or equipment specifications. Try to locate agencies that have built a new facility in the past few years. This will allow them ample time to evaluate the overall success of their project and provide a detailed lessons-­learned summary.

The last thing to keep in mind is that nearly all government contracts go to the lowest bidder, so look out for the cost-cutting measures built into the proposal. Know what the fleet department needs well in advance; don’t wait until someone tells you what you need.

Let’s look at some important considerations when designing a new facility. This article divides the project assessment into three main categories: location, building, and equipment.


The author worked with architects in the design of the City of Coral Gables' new bus maintenance facility. Pictured is a diagram of the facility. Image courtesy of the City of Coral Gables, Fla.

The author worked with architects in the design of the City of Coral Gables' new bus maintenance facility. Pictured is a diagram of the facility. Image courtesy of the City of Coral Gables, Fla.

Selecting the Location

What are some considerations when choosing a facility location? New locations may pose numerous unanticipated obstacles. For example, facilities that are proposed near high-density residential areas may have to overcome objections or gain approval from outside organizations such as environmental and homeowners associations. Agreements with such organizations may result in restrictions on maintenance activities and hours of operation, or forbid vehicle painting on the premises. While this type of scenario is uncommon, ensure that any potential restrictions placed upon the new location are thoroughly analyzed and weighed.

The location may also contain unforeseen physical limitations. For example, one city decided to build its new facility near a small creek. The City later realized, after construction started, that subterranean leaching near the creek affected the entire construction site. This late discovery increased the final price of the project by well over $100,000. Some agencies building facilities on former landfills or near water reservoirs have later discovered the building had become structurally unsafe due to abnormal and excessive settling.

Here are some additional items that should be considered when choosing a new location:

➜ Parking Areas:

This aspect of the design is often overlooked. Requirements for parking and storage will most likely exceed the dimensions of the facility itself. When planning for employee parking, ensure a sufficient number of spaces not only to handle a single day shift, but also the night shift (if required). The last thing any fleet manager wants is to allot for nonproductive time so employees can move their vehicles to parking spaces after the other shift personnel leave.

➜ Storage Areas:

Storage space must also be considered and should be completely separate from employee parking. How many spaces are required for ready and dead-lined vehicles? Will a secure storage area for newly acquired, surplus, or police impounded vehicles be needed? If there is a vehicle pool service from this location, it should be separate from all the other areas. Do the proper analysis to determine the correct distance from the parking areas to the facility. Determine the turning radius limitations for large equipment, and make sure there is sufficient maneuvering room between the building and the parking areas.

➜ Environmental:

The location should also be assessed for flooding and environmental impact. Most maintenance facilities will accumulate a certain amount of fuel and oil deposits in the equipment parking areas. In the event of a flood, these deposits could contaminate the runoff and result in a significant fine from the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), especially if the runoff flows into a nearby stream or lake. Parking lot runoff may also be required to flow through an oil-water separator before it is discharged into the sewer system. Make sure any bulk oil storage areas have a proper containment wall and tanks are properly secured to prevent a possible breakaway during a flood.

Noise abatement is also considered an environmental issue; evaluate any potential restrictions on both day and evening shifts. This is not only a concern to populated areas but also to uninhabited land that falls within the criteria of an environmentally protected or sensitive area.

➜ Accessibility:

Location is everything. While most government agencies look for the cheapest land to purchase, it may not make good business sense in the long term. Accessibility to the site, especially during peak traffic hours, is critical to effective and efficient service delivery. Facilities that are located in areas prone to traffic jams may experience significantly increased maintenance delay times due to outside parts acquisitions and the transportation of equipment to vendors.

➜ Security:

Proposed sites in densely populated areas may require more layers of physical security and increase the probability of additional operational restrictions. Define what physical barriers (such as fencing) are needed to deter criminal activity. Add security lighting, video surveillance, and intrusion and fire detection systems into the facility design specifications. Determine the need for automated gate controls for access after normal operating hours.


Constructing the Building

When designing the facility, consider not only current requirements but also the possibility of future expansion. Draft a floor plan to determine space needs and the position of equipment. Remember that what goes into the building, and how it is placed, is just as important as where it is located. A poorly laid out floor plan can increase process delays and reduce the overall efficiency of the facility. 

➜ Work Bays:

The number of work bays required to properly service equipment is dependent on the mix and size of the fleet. Take into consideration whether the fleet will be operating single or multiple maintenance shifts and if certain work bays will be dedicated to perform specific functions (such as welding, auto body, alignment, hydraulic, electrical, and preventive maintenance services). While the number of bays is determined by specific requirements, Government Fleet’s “Fleet Toolbox” has a calculator that can help determine the number.

Once the number of bays is determined, specify their design. The work bays should be built to facilitate the traffic flow in and out of the building. In most cases, fleet facilities have drive-through bays that allow vehicles that have been repaired to exit the building while another vehicle is at the other end of the bay being serviced.

When sizing the bay spaces, take into account both the vertical and horizontal requirements for the fleet’s largest piece of equipment. When determining the height of the bay, consider the height required for the vehicle to be raised off the floor (with the cab raised) using the vehicle lift. Ensure there is sufficient clearance between the vehicle and the overhead cranes, heaters, and lighting. The horizontal requirement space should account for toolbox and supplies storage, work areas, and fire lanes.

With the advent of newer and more sophisticated lift equipment, work bay service pits could become a thing of the past. Not only are they inefficient, but they also pose a significant safety risk when open and not in use. Because the pits are located directly beneath the vehicle being serviced, oily deposits can build up on pit stairs and cause additional unforeseen hazards. The service pit design generally limits the technician’s ability to completely view the entire undercarriage of a vehicle and restricts the maintenance of items that are within their immediate reach. Lastly, the pit design does not facilitate the inspection and maintenance of wheels, brakes, and linkages. The installation of a service pit in a new facility is not recommended.

➜ Floors:

The floor and drainage of the facility is often overlooked and assumed to be engineered correctly. The floors should obviously be sealed to prevent oil residue from seeping into and staining the concrete. The bay floors can be slightly angled toward the floor drains to allow for the flow of spilled fluids to the drain. The floor’s load capacity (normally rated in pounds per square inch) should be calculated to withhold pressures of heavy vehicles placed upon above-ground lifts and jack stands. Inform engineers if a second floor will be used for parts and material storage. Storing of heavy­ ­equipment or parts (such as engines, transmissions, and tires, etc.) may exceed the load-­bearing capacity of the floor and lead to a catastrophic collapse.


➜ Electrical:

What are the power requirements for the building and where will the power receptacles be placed? Have the appropriate voltage and amperage ratings where it’s needed. If using pre-existing equipment in a new building, provide engineers with the actual operating voltage, phase, and amperage ratings of the equipment, and where it will be installed. Assess the need for additional special-purpose outlets (other than 110-volt and 220-volt) for movable equipment such as welders and portable lifts that have unique power requirements. As a suggestion, get a copy of the floor plan and write in the location of the equipment. Then list the voltage, amperage, and phase requirements for each piece.

Be proactive and have the facility prewired for emergency power. In many instances, this is forgotten during the design process and will only come to mind when it’s most needed: during an emergency. Identify the priority circuits for the building, such as air compressor, lifts, lighting, computer systems, etc. Segregate those circuits to a specific panel with a commercial disconnect switch and install a weatherproof generator receptacle outside the building.

If the agency plans to acquire alternative-­fuel vehicles that utilize lighter-than-air gaseous fuels, know the new building code requirements for maintenance facilities that are engaged in the repair of these types of vehicles. Lighter-than-air fuels include liquefied natural gas (LNG), compressed natural gas (CNG), and hydrogen. As the use of these alternative-fuel vehicles continues to grow, so do the regulations governing the buildings at which they are maintained. Since CNG is lighter than air, pockets of explosive gas could accumulate in the ceilings and crawl spaces of buildings.

Additionally, gases that tend to stay at the bottom (such as propane) require certain restrictions on the use and design of below-grade maintenance pits. This type of maintenance activity has forced the revision of many state and local building codes.

Consult local building codes before finalizing the design. If local building codes fail to address these issues, ensure that engineers review National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) codes 52 and 58.

In addition to the building codes, fleet management may be required to develop certain shop procedures on the use of welding equipment and any other flame- or spark-producing equipment around vehicles running on lighter-than-air fuels.

➜ Lighting:

Bay lighting is never considered a problem until after it has been installed and the technicians start to complain about it. Most designers will simply install high-intensity overhead lights that may not be sufficient for use when working under the equipment. Consider having lights installed on the lifts or along the walls to brighten up the work area. Additionally, consider specifying that reel lights be installed on all above-ground lifts and along the bay walls. Windows in
the work bay walls and skylight panels can increase the amount of natural lighting.

➜ Roll-Up Doors and Ventilation:

If the facility is located in an extremely cold environment, consider installing insulated roll-up doors in the bays. Although this will increase the overall cost of the building, it will result in reduced heating costs. If an electrically driven roll-up door is required, add a manual override system to the specification. In hot climates, consider a thermostatically controlled roof and wall ventilation fans to reduce the inside heating of the building.

➜ Drainage and Oil-Water Separation:

It should be noted that many jurisdictions are becoming more concerned about the effects vehicle maintenance facilities have on the environment. In most states, it is forbidden for any floor drain or wash basin (sink) in a vehicle maintenance facility to drain into the sewer system without previously having been filtered through an oil-water separator. For a small fleet facility, a 1,000-gallon oil-water separator should be sufficient, but keep in mind that the more flow going into the separator, the more frequently it will need servicing.

Also, if adding an automated or manual wash station that is co-located with the maintenance facility, take into account how the increased contaminated water flow will affect the oil-water separation system. In most cases, small oil-water separators are designed to handle the flow of normal contaminated water from floor drains. If a vehicle wash station exceeds the capability of the oil-water separator, it may discharge contaminated water into the sewer system. This could result in heavy fines and the need to change the underground separator tank to a larger size.


➜ Parts Room:

The parts room should be centrally located in the building. Its location should facilitate the ease of access from all work bays. The parts room should be designed as to be completely and securely locked down from the rest of the facility when parts personnel are not at their stations. The parts counter should be built to ­handle heavy loads and covered with a layer of protective material. Additional storage space should be designed beneath the counter to allow for the issuance of expendable items. Specify the size of the parts storage area to accommodate current stock levels and some additional space for expansion of future inventory.

The parts room design should include a secure shipping and receiving area, which should include external roll-up door access and an area for the temporary storage of materials awaiting placement into inventory. The number and size of tire racks should be determined by the tire size and inventory turnover requirements. Additionally, many government agencies require that used tire storage areas be located under a protective area to avoid the accumulation of water in the tires, which promotes the breeding of mosquitoes. Some fleet agencies also use parts personnel to manage the inventory of government-owned specialized tools. In this case, a secure tool cage should be located and built behind the parts counter with easy access for parts personnel.

Keep the battery storage and charging area separate from the parts room. The battery room should be ventilated with automated fans that forcibly recycle the ambient room air to prevent buildup of hydrogen gas during charging.

➜ Safety:

Safety is of primary concern for all fleet facilities. Make sure all necessary safety devices are written into the design specification. Eye wash stations, according to OSHA, should be spaced no further than 10 seconds away from a workplace that is at high risk. This is based upon the assumption that the injured employee will not have any assistance to reach the station. An exception to the distance rule can be made if management can guarantee an injured employee will be assisted by another person at any time during the work day.

In addition to the eye wash equipment, consider an emergency shower station. In either case, both systems should include audible and visual warning devices when the systems are activated. This will warn other facility staff of a possible emergency in progress. Fire detection and sprinkler systems will normally be added to the design in accordance with local building and fire codes. Lastly, specify that internal emergency lighting is to be installed in the work bays and administrative and parts areas.

➜ Administrative Areas:

As a general rule, administrative areas will take up approximately 20% of the building’s total floor space requirement. When designing the building, take into account the space requirements for the following administrative areas:

● Lobby and foyer.
● Break and customer waiting rooms.
● Fleet manager, supervisor, and staff office space.
● Service writer office space.
● Training/conference rooms.
● IT (fleet management information system server room).
● Technical library.
● File storage.
● Lockers and shower rooms.
● Janitor’s closet.
● Secure storage areas.
● Mechanical rooms.

➜ Additional Considerations:

Below are some other items that should be considered when designing a building:

● HVAC. What areas will require temperature control?
● Drinking fountains.
● Public address system. The PA system should be able to broadcast throughout the entire facility to include certain outside areas. The management, supervisory, administrative, and parts staff should be able to be access the system.
● Disability access.
● LAN and telephone lines. Specify the requirements for LAN and phone drops. Add LAN connections at technician work stations and parts warehouse locations.


Choosing the Equipment

The site and building design is only half the battle. When selecting the equipment layout and specifications, many variables come into play.

➜ Lifts:

Determine how many permanently installed (fixed) lifts are required and what bays will be best suited for them. The bay where the lift is installed must have sufficient turning radius outside the building to facilitate the equipment getting in and out of the bay. Fixed lifts may also restrict a bay for use with only certain types of equipment, depending on the rated capabilities and physical dimensions of the lift.

Lifts should be selected to exceed the maximum gross vehicle weight by at least 20%. A technician may be forced to lift a fully loaded vehicle that, unbeknownst to him or her, has exceeded its maximum gross vehicle weight. If the fixed lift is installed into the bay floor, ensure the span of the lifting cylinders is capable of extending the necessary distance, from axle to axle, of the longest piece of equipment.

➜ Air Compressor:

When sizing an air compressor, consider the actual cubic feet per minute (ACFM) and storage capacity (tank size) requirements. The ACFM model calculates the amount of usable air pressure the compressor can deliver given a particular location’s conditions, such as atmospheric pressure, temperature, and humidity. Under normal conditions, the demand of the compressor should not exceed an 80% duty cycle. In other words, it should rest at least two minutes for every 10 minutes it runs. This will prevent premature failure of the compressor due to constant demand.

When determining the tank size, calculate the normal continuous air requirements. This would include all air-­powered shop tools and any other facility that may be serviced by the compressor. For very large shops, consider having multiple individual compressors or dual compressors attached to the same tank with a system to alternate the operating times of each compressor. Remember, whatever the requirements, is it better to oversize than undersize the compressor. An undersized compressor will end up costing more money in repairs in the long run than the specified larger model. Lastly, include a fully automated air dryer, tank moisture drain, and timer system to the specification.

➜ Fluid Delivery and Recovery System:

If the bulk storage tanks are to be located outside, build a shelter over the tanks. This will help avoid premature failure of the air-driven pumps and hoses because of constant exposure to the sun’s heat and UV rays.

With single-wall tanks, make sure the bulk fluid storage site has a small containment wall built around it to prevent a ruptured tank from leaking its contents into the surrounding soil. Install a manual drain valve in the containment wall to prevent buildup of rainwater.

Dual-wall tanks should contain an interspatial monitor and alarm system to detect and warn of leaks in the primary holding tank. The air supply to the pumps should include an automated air cutoff valve to disable the pumps during non-operating hours. This will prevent an external or internal spill should one of the product lines rupture. When designing the delivery system, account for all anticipated bulk fluid needs, which may include: antifreeze, transmission, hydraulic, and engine oils.

Lastly, pay particular attention to where hose reels are placed and that they will extend to the locations they need to reach.

➜ Exhaust Extraction System:

If bay doors need to be opened and closed due to seasonal changes, install an exhaust extraction system that has the capacity to simultaneously evacuate exhaust gases from all available hoses. System activation controls should be installed in each bay. The exhaust hoses should be rated for high temperature, as new diesel engine regenerative emissions systems have been known to melt older model exhaust hoses. Finally, if constructing a welding/fabrication station in the new facility, include an exhaust port with a mechanical swing arm or hood.

In closing, when designing a new facility, no matter what steps a fleet manager takes, he or she should take his or her time doing it. Performing proper research ahead of time will prevent a lot of headaches in the future.

About the Author:

Steve Riley is automotive director at the City of Coral Gables, Fla. He has managed several multi-million dollar Department of Defense building projects, as well as the design and construction of an airport air traffic control tower and approach control facility in Europe. He is currently working on a new transit bus maintenance facility.