Sonoma County, Calif., opened its new fleet facility in 2017 and designed it so it can be easily expanded in the future.
 - Photo courtesy of Sonoma County

Sonoma County, Calif., opened its new fleet facility in 2017 and designed it so it can be easily expanded in the future.

Photo courtesy of Sonoma County

Do your research. That’s one of the most important pieces of advice Michael Webster, CAFM, would offer to other government fleet managers who are preparing to plan, design, and move into a new fleet maintenance facility. 

At a glance

Fleet managers who have been through the experience of moving their departments into a new facility say some of the top considerations include:

  • Client access
  • Technology
  • Safety.

Webster, who oversees about 1,200 vehicles and pieces of equipment as fleet manager for the Forest Preserve District of DuPage County, Ill., planned ahead for his fleet’s new facility, which began operation this past August. He visited nearby municipalities that had built new facilities over the past decade, and he asked the fleet managers what lessons they learned during the process. He got plenty of advice, but they all told him to make sure the facility was large enough to meet his fleet’s needs.

“The main thing they all said was that under political pressure they reduced the size of their facilities, and then the day they moved into them, they had almost outgrown the facilities,” Webster said.

He determined that his team would design its new facility so it would not have to increase the building’s size for many years to come. “It took us 50 years to get a new building, and it’s going to be another 50 or more before you get to make changes to it, so you better get it right the first time,” he said.

But building size is just one area of concern for government fleets moving into new facilities. Three fleet managers who have been through the process of moving into new fleet facilities say doing research and planning ahead are the first of several steps to follow.

Integrate Shop Workflow 

Soon after or during the research phase comes the design phase, and fleet managers should plan to locate the facility’s equipment so it meets work needs, said John Manring, chief, departmental operations, fleet, for the County of San Diego, Calif. That is especially important for the county’s Express Service program that offers certain preventive maintenance services in less than an hour. He and his team make sure the service bays are laid out so the technician can complete the work within that timeframe. The lube equipment needs to be located properly, the in-and-out vehicle traffic must be safely configured, and parts supplies need to be close to where technicians work. Tire machines should be located in the area where the tire work is performed, so technicians aren’t rolling tires back and forth for long distances.

“And of course, you always keep safety in mind,” said Manring, who oversees a fleet of about 4,300 vehicles and equipment. “You keep like equipment, and like repairs, in the same area. You don’t want a 50-­passenger prisoner bus going down the same path that a Ford Focus is.”

David Worthington agreed on the importance of design flexibility. The fleet manager for the County of Sonoma, Calif., whose division finished construction of a 21,430-square-foot facility in January 2017, recommended flexibility to address how the building can be used 20 years from now. As an example, he noted the county owns a few pieces of property to the east of its fleet facility. The fleet team made sure the east end wall of the service area could be easily removed to expand in that direction.

 - Photo courtesy of Forest Preserve District of Dupage County

Photo courtesy of Forest Preserve District of Dupage County

 - Photo courtesy of Forest Preserve District of Dupage County

Photo courtesy of Forest Preserve District of Dupage County

The Forest Preserve District of DuPage County, Ill., made sure to build a facility large enough to cover maintenance and repair of its 1,200-unit fleet.

Ensure Client Access

Along the lines of workflow, clients should have no trouble figuring out how to enter the facility to receive service. And once they are in the facility, they should be able to continue to do business while their vehicles are being serviced. 

If work stations are available at the facility, then the downtime of that car being in the garage will not have as much impact as it would if clients dropped off the vehicle and came back the following day. “Make sure you’ve got Wi-Fi access for them, a place to work, and your signage in your buildings is adequate enough to direct them where to go,” Manring said.

Consider Future Needs

Engage your IT department, because vehicle technology will only get more advanced going forward. “Cars these days are rolling computers themselves,” Manring said. “When you design a garage, build for the future, not just today.” 

How can fleets do that? “Plan on alternative fuels,” Manring said. The U.S. is still dependent on petroleum, but it is slowly moving toward electric. That means fleets should plan on being able to charge vehicles as they are working on them. 

Worthington noted that fleets considering lowering their petroleum use in the future should design the facility to meet the fire standards necessary to service and repair compressed natural gas or other alternative-fuel vehicles. 

Consider Safety

When a fleet department moves to a new facility, that changes the working environment for everyone. Changes such as new equipment, upgraded lighting, modified workflow processes, and vehicle workflow patterns all have an impact on safety practices. 

“When you design a building, make sure you design in safety,” Manring said. He also noted that safety is a top consideration when a fleet adds alternative-fuel vehicles.

 - ​Photo by Vince Taroc

​Photo by Vince Taroc

 - Photo by Vince Taroc

Photo by Vince Taroc

When designing its new fleet facility, staff members at San Diego County, Calif., carefully considered workflow for optimum technician efficiency.

Be the Experts

Fleet managers rely on architects, designers, contractors, and others. But Worthington noted that those professionals don’t build many fleet maintenance facilities, particularly for government operations.  

“The fleet staff are the experts, and they need to take control of the situation and be very aggressive in saying that a particular idea by an architect or an adjustment by a general contractor will not work,” Worthington said. “It will create operational costs and challenges well into the future of the fleet facility.” 

Worthington noted that a subcontractor for his fleet’s current facility placed natural gas heaters near the top of the roof — too high to adequately heat the technicians’ work area. This happened because the contractor designed the system for a warehouse rather than for a fleet maintenance facility.

Be Ready for Bumps in the Road

“Know that whenever you build something new…there will always be bumps in the road,” Webster said. Nothing is 100% perfect when you build something, so fleets can expect setbacks along the way with the construction process, delays, or problems even after move-in. 

After Webster’s team settled into its new facility, one of the fittings for an overhead reel lubrication pump had a substantial leak. The contractor then had to check every line in the shop to make sure all the fittings were tight. That goes back to Webster’s earlier advice to do your research, and much of that research involves learning from others’ experiences.

“A lot of aspects go into designing and constructing a new building,” Webster said. “It takes you in a thousand different directions. You can’t think of it all, so you’ve got to have others help you out if you can.”

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