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Planning and designing a fleet facility

William A. Ramsey
Project Manager
Bucher, Willis & Ratliff Corp.
Kansas City, Missouri
Member, APWA Fleet Services Committee

The planning and designing of a fleet maintenance facility is usually a once-in-a-lifetime event for most organizations. Coupled with tight dollars and conflicting priorities, new fleet facilities are often at the bottom of the list for improvements. Consequently, when a city does decide to invest significant tax dollars into a fleet maintenance facility there will be only one chance to get it right.

How not to start a fleet facility
The planning aspect for a fleet maintenance facility is too often taken for granted when starting this type of project. Most public works officials, at a minimum, will visit a few other facilities, talk to their counterparts and decide that they are now ready to design a facility. They have not reviewed their operations, have not looked at their fleet mix, have not determined current and future staffing levels for both field crew and maintenance staff, nor have they even considered all of the functions that will operate within the facility. Staff and space requirements need to be programmed and allowance made for future requirements.

A good number of facilities are also built without an understanding of the need for adequate land size to support a maintenance facility. A general rule of thumb is that the footprint of the building(s) should not occupy more than 25% of the gross land. The remaining space is needed for staging, circulation, warm storage parking, visitor parking, employee parking, salvage parking, material storage, fuel stations and other requirements unique to your own situation. If screening and landscaping are an issue then more space may be required.

Elements of a facility master plan
Prior to the start of the planning phase, a few key questions must be addressed in order to ensure the most functionally efficient, effective and economical facility for the organization.

  • What is the mission of the department(s) that will use this facility?
  • How will the facility support the success of the department(s) mission?
  • How will customer (both inside and outside) service be enhanced?
  • Is the organizational structure set or will the new building facilitate reorganization?

The planning phase of a master facility plan takes into account:

  • Current and future operations
  • Site and facility assessments
  • Existing facility condition assessment
  • Staffing analysis
  • Population trends
  • Inventory analysis
  • Storage concerns
  • Work space allocations
  • Outsourcing alternatives
  • Security concerns
  • Staging requirements
  • Environmental issues
  • Information technology
  • Space needs analysis

These topics are not inclusive but represent what most master plans would address for a fleet maintenance facility. The key to any facility is how it works to support the operations. The simple but worth repeating idea is that operational requirements must drive the facility planning, and ultimately the design. Internal and external stakeholders must be involved if all aspects of operational requirements are to be included.

The real work in planning and ultimately designing a fleet maintenance facility is the space needs analysis. The preplanning and planning part of the project will culminate in this phase. By no means is this the only aspect which is important, but the real thrust of planning a facility is driven by the needs analysis. The operations review, which includes an organization and functions analysis, is a component of the space needs requirements. So much of the outcome of the project is derived from the front-end planning, that design is the follow-on component of the planning and space needs requirement. As the old adage goes, "The more we plan and probe the greater the chance for success."

Finally, the design part of the process is at hand. If the planning phase has been executed in a thorough manner there should be no surprises during design. Again, the operational requirements must drive the process. The facility is not being built to win architectural awards but to serve the needs of the organization.

William A. Ramsey is a retired Municipal Services Director with the City of Olathe, Kansas, and is currently a Project Manager with Bucher, Willis & Ratliff Corp. He is a member of APWA's Fleet Services Technical Committee and a past member of the Nominating Committee. He can be reached at (816) 363-2696 or wramsey@bwrcorp.com.