Author: Christopher T. Gruendl, AIA
Just outside New Stanton, PA, a 2.8 million square foot manufacturing facility stretches across the landscape for almost half a mile of U.S. 119, just south of the turnpike. The former home of Sony Corporation during the 1990's and Volkswagen a decade before that, today the sprawling facility is the home of RIDC's Westmoreland Facility. Unlike in the days of Sony and Volkswagen, RIDC does not lease the former plant that produced Trinitron Televisions and VW Rabbits to only one single tenant. For the past 3 years, R3A has been working with RIDC to masterplan and subdivide the facility for multi-tenant occupancy.
As one might imagine, a quarter mile long building with 30 foot high ceilings, the size of more than 50 football fields, can harbor a host of complex safety concerns. Providing appropriate fire separation between tenants and adequate sprinkler coverage is critical not just for building codes and inspection, but also to reduce insurance rates. A comprehensive exiting and circulation masterplan is essential so that building occupants do not have unrestricted access across the facility, while the landlord's maintenance staff and security have free access throughout the complex.
Modern manufacturing has become highly automated and the average workforce size has been reduced as a result of technology induced productivity gains. Meanwhile, current building codes continue to base their determination of maximum occupant loads for factories on the basis of long assembly lines harkening back to another era. This leads to unrealistically high occupant load calculations which mandate larger and redundant restroom facilities and parking lots, making the facility infrastructure more expensive to build out for landlords. To help RIDC mitigate the impact and potential cost of improvements, R3A worked with the Industrial Board at Pennsylvania’s Department of Labor and Industry to apply for and help obtain variances to increase travel distances to exits and reduce maximum occupant loads for RIDC and their tenants.
In addition to adapting building code interpretations, infrastructure upgrades to meet the technology needs of 21st century manufacturing facilities are a necessity. These heavy steel and concrete facilities tend to have poor cell phone reception which then require signal boosters and Wi-Fi. When repurposing older buildings, there is sometimes a tendency to try to reuse heavy power distribution and HVAC equipment, even though sometimes the upfront cost and continued maintenance of this equipment may cost more than replacing it. Having an engineering cost analysis and pre-commissioning completed early in the design process is a necessity, especially if the equipment has been dormant for any period of time.
Three years ago, R3A worked with Aquion Energy to help design their move into RIDC’s facility and they are now manufacturing the world's first saltwater electrolyte batteries which are redefining renewable energy storage for the electrical grid. Last summer R3A worked with Cenveo, Inc. to help their relocation from their Scottsdale, PA plant to RIDC Westmoreland and they are now manufacturing the world's largest quantity of white envelopes from this facility on a daily basis. The RIDC Westmoreland plant has proven to become one of our region’s most successful examples of facility transformation to meet the challenges of 21st century manufacturing.