The following Viewpoint is written by Barry Enright, associate director at construction consulting firm, Linesight.

One key to success in the construction industry depends on adapting to new regulations. Whether due to public outcry, safety concerns, or urban planning, governments impose limitations, controls, and requirements to influence how and where construction takes place within their jurisdictions. Construction leaders who can navigate existing regulations and anticipate new initiatives will complete their projects more efficiently (in terms of time and cost) than those caught by surprise. Industries such as life sciences and biotechnology deal with hazardous materials and thus tend to be regulated more heavily than others. Construction professionals in those fields must therefore pay even closer attention to changes in the rules wherever they build. 

Recently, the Boston Planning and Development Agency (BPDA) proposed a plan to regulate life sciences development, including changing zoning definitions for what constitutes a research lab, only to field concerns from local residents about future life sciences construction in the area. The BPDA is collaborating with community groups, pending a final decision from the planning commission. The agency’s board will vote on the final draft later in the year, and will release zoning guidelines in the next few months. To help construction companies in Boston and elsewhere prepare for these potential changes, it is important to go through the Life Science Building Design Guidelines and Life Sciences Action Agenda to establish some best practices for life sciences organizations looking to build or renovate in the city of Boston. 

Ongoing discussion 

One of the key lessons from the development process for new rules is to always be prepared for details to come out slowly or haltingly, and be ready to pivot once regulators announce their rulings. The new BPDA regulations must address concerns from Boston locals about life sciences as a whole before being implemented. It is unclear thus far what this means for specific aspects of life sciences construction. For example, the agency has yet to express whether the new policies will cover vivarium maintenance, animal safety, and biosafety levels (BSLs). The regulatory status of biomanufacturing is also up in the air. By focusing on life sciences in total without singling out any given subsections of the industry, the regulating body is signaling that any number of rules might go into effect and cover the entire industry, so life sciences projects of all sorts should be flexible enough to adapt to new parameters. 

So far, the upcoming changes will likely involve distinct design approaches in areas including mixed-use districts, dedicated industrial zones, and healthcare and academic campuses. This is largely in response to consideration for residential areas. Many of the sessions to discuss new policies are neighborhood meetings, stressing the influence and importance of local residents when it comes to zoning and location. Life sciences construction projects that begin near residential areas may have to weigh the pros and cons of having an office close to potential employee living spaces and upsetting local residents with new development. Life sciences facilities that house animals or experimental biomatter will have a harder time establishing themselves near residential neighborhoods. 

Cost impact

New construction guidelines always require contractors and clients to reconsider the cost implications. For example, the BPDA rules now require smaller floorplates, which may result in less complex building designs and reduced labor and materials costs, but such may be offset by a higher land cost per square foot, especially in urban areas. Likewise, integrated solar or vegetative cover systems can increase upfront costs but provide long-term energy savings and sustainability.

Implementing the various guidelines will tend to involve initial cost increases, but will result in multiple long-term benefits for construction in the region. Better visual and functional integration of rooftop mechanical systems and improved reusable energy performance with minimal public impact should create more sustainable, adaptable, and community-friendly developments.

Loading and service areas will be reconfigured to take up minimal space and not disrupt neighborhood aesthetics, with reduced long-term operating costs for transportation and parking management. These new policies also prioritize equitable representation for small, locally owned, and diverse-owned businesses, creating vibrant spaces while fostering social and economic development. 

Taken together, these changes should help construction companies and their clients build sustainable, transportation-efficient, environmentally friendly communities, with a diverse workforce and more satisfied residents.

These potential gains for the overall community should merit the short-term investment in new planning and construction costs, especially to facilitate sustained and resilient building practices, reduced energy and operational costs, higher tenant satisfaction, regulatory compliance, and achievable environmental goals. Overall impact on costs will ultimately depend on the specifics of each project, the extent to which these guidelines are integrated, and the availability of cost-effective green building technologies and materials. 

Community concerns

It is often useful to plan life sciences construction projects around the concerns of the local community, and the possible repercussions and limitations of any changes. People in the Boston area are requesting better access to parking, public transit, and alternate transportation and new life sciences buildings might need to accommodate infrastructure of this sort. City planning can be a complex and circuitous process as civic, business, and community representatives debate solutions. Construction experts are often consulted in these matters, but the best strategy is to pay attention to what the community wants and be ready for likely shifts in policy. 

Because regulators and local leaders gather feedback from the construction industry, it benefits industry professionals to present accurate and useful data that will influence decision making. New regulations and zoning requirements need impact statements, estimates, and a detailed analysis of life sciences development both locally and in general. By providing this information, construction companies can ensure that authorities have a clear view of the local life sciences industry and can set policy that takes the needs of the industry into consideration as well as those of their constituents. 

Preparedness matters 

The key takeaway from any ongoing regulation process is that while new rules remain in draft form, unknowns may outnumber known quantities and little solid data might be available. This can slow the release of impact statements and obscure potential shifts in architecture and engineering. Costs and schedules could swing drastically, especially if construction companies do not brace for the impacts of the most likely changes. 

Until the BPDA announces its official new policies, it is important to stay informed of any changes. Construction professionals working or preparing to work on relevant projects should continuously monitor developments and stay in the loop about proposed changes in regulations, building codes, and guidelines as they impact life sciences sites. This includes tracking updates from government agencies, industry associations, and local authorities. 

Construction leaders should leverage their relevant expertise to adjust to any new policies. Life sciences companies and their construction partners should collaborate with legal teams and regulatory experts who specialize in planning and development regulations for their region to ensure clients and contractors are prepared to address any legal requirements related to compliance.

It is also vital to keep in contact with appropriate regulators and administrators (in this case, the BPDA) to be informed of any changes or decisions as early as possible. The right construction consultant can foster and maintain this relationship, facilitating a fluid and mutually beneficial exchange of information between construction companies, life sciences clients, and officials. 

The ongoing process of determining which regulations the BPDA will ultimately put in place is a great example of how important it is to be flexible and adaptable in the construction industry. As we wait for updates from the BPDA, it is important to remember that new and ongoing projects always depend on a smooth journey from inception to completion. Regulatory mishaps can lead to long delays and rising prices. By following local trends, listening to community concerns, and interfacing with local leaders and regulators, construction professionals can provide top-tier facilities—built in a time and cost efficient manner—that comply with all legal demands.

An associate director at construction consulting firm, Linesight, Barry Enright’s more than 13 years of industry experience includes work in the pharmaceutical, retail, residential, operations and healthcare sectors in the US, UAE, and Ireland. Enright leads the Linesight’s recently opened Boston office.