Plant Construction: New Vs. Retrofit (Part 1)

Bruce Beggs |

Your company is weighing its options for plant construction. Should you build new or retrofit?American Laundry News recently invited several engineering, construction and consulting firms with laundry services expertise to respond to some questions about this debate, and identify some of the factors in making the decision.Describe, in layman’s terms, the concepts of “new construction” and “retrofit” as they apply to on-premise laundry or textile/uniform rental facilities.Doug Rose, business development manager, Turn-Key Industrial Engineering Services, Charlottesville, Va.
New construction allows you to get a broader perspective on the future. You are going to construct a greenfield facility, meaning from the ground up, and you can build it to suit your exacting needs and desires. You can make room for new product lines, new equipment, or take advantage of an opportunity to consolidate redundant or separate operations under one roof.
Retrofitting could be one of two scenarios. First, you could retrofit an existing facility to handle more capacity, achieve greater efficiency through redesign, or put in more equipment. Second, you could acquire an existing building, through purchase or lease, and retrofit it to hold your operation.
One other alternative is an upgrade. For example, moving from open-pocket washers to a tunnel washer to increase efficiency in a linen plant would be an upgrade. It may require some construction, new wash floor layout, or other small changes, but it doesn’t necessarily qualify as a complete retrofit.
New construction is the most expensive and yields the greatest dollar benefit. Retrofitting is moderately expensive by comparison and usually yields a reasonable benefit. Upgrading costs the least but yields the lowest dollar benefit. The critical determination to make is which project will give you the greatest return on investment (ROI) and flexibility for the future within the limits of financing.Glen Phillips, president and senior associate, Phillips & Associates, Minneapolis, Minn.
In today’s business climate, the topic of replacing an aging laundry encounters a deep divide between building new and retrofitting an existing building.
New construction has many potential meanings depending on how the proposition is couched; a design construction plan from the ground up has many attractive benefits, particularly if the new plant is replacing an existing, operational laundry. But planning a new building today is fraught with complications not encountered with retrofitting an existing building. New construction takes one through a maze of regulatory obstacles: planning board review and approval, determining if a site is in a properly zoned area for “light industrial” uses, environmental considerations, fire and building department review and commentary, and the like. All in all, a new building process is arduous, tedious and time-consuming.
One other aspect of building a new facility is finding a site near a working-class neighborhood where employees are nearby or at least where public transportation is readily available.
Then, there are those who reconcile themselves with the notion that an older building won’t do; those same people decide that they’re just going to build from scratch.
The benefit of retrofitting an existing building is the speed at which the process can be accomplished. Many of the regulatory hurdles are circumvented since many municipalities and counties will “grandfather” the building and site for a laundry as long as the building and site comply with current building codes. Buildings more than 20 years old rarely meet current codes; for that reason they must be brought up to code, which frequently adds a great deal to the project cost.
One of the most frequently overlooked regulations is compliance with Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) requirements. A project team will frequently search out and find a large, two-story building that meets all of the suggested requirements for a modern laundry, only to forget about the ADA guidelines. Older buildings don’t have elevators; for these older buildings to be considered viable for a laundry, an elevator must be factored into the equation, which might add $75,000 to the cost.Elliot J. Mata, Laundry Division manager, ARCO/Murray National Construction Co., Oakbrook Terrace, Ill.
In the simplest terms, new construction refers to building a laundry facility ‘from the ground up.’ That is, the contractor starts with a piece of land and builds the laundry from scratch, including the building shell and the build-out of the laundry. The building elements are tailored to meet the exact requirements of the end-user’s operation with the goal of creating the perfect building to house the laundry process. As such, the building is often “built around” the equipment layout in order to achieve the desired product flow.
New construction provides a nearly limitless approach to design and construction of a laundry plant. Every building feature, such as size, shape, clear height, column location, parking layout, number of dock spaces, mechanical systems, etc., are defined by the laundry client’s requirements. The phrase “build to suit” is another term used in the construction industry when referring to this type of project.
A retrofit can refer to several different types of construction projects in respect to a laundry facility. Converting an existing building into an operating laundry is often considered a retrofit. Alternatively, a retrofit can also consist of a major plant renovation or upgrade within an existing laundry. There could be major construction to the wash floor, finishing side, mechanical space, offices, or even a building addition. In the case of an addition, the construction often becomes a hybrid of what’s considered new construction and retrofit.Gerard O’Neill, president/CEO, American Laundry Systems, Haverhill, Mass.
The concept of new construction is one of a “green grass” scenario, whereby the operator is building a new laundry, including the building itself, from the ground up. A retrofit is a scenario whereby the operator has decided to incorporate a new laundry into an existing building, or an already operating laundry is being retrofitted.Matt Alexander, president, Pertl & Alexander, Jamesville, N.Y.
While the lines between new construction and retrofit can become blurred when we engage in the expansion of an existing facility, in general terms, we consider a project to be a retrofit when the laundry footprint remains largely the same and new systems and technology are installed. We qualify a project as new construction when a new facility is constructed, when an existing facility currently not a laundry is built out to support laundry operations, and when the facility is significantly expanded beyond its current footprint.
For example, a commercial laundry customer operates a healthcare facility processing approximately 40 million pounds annually. Because expansion of the existing facility included a substantial footprint, we considered this to be new construction.
We consider the recent construction of another commercial laundry in Colorado that had been destroyed by fire to be new construction, although the new facility sits on the same spot.
Another project completed recently was replacement of a 500-pound-capacity dryer with two 300-pound-capacity dryers for a commercial laundry client in Connecticut. Because we redesigned the dryer layout to enhance workflow and to replace the large dryer that had been destroyed by fire, we consider it a retrofit to improve workflow, productivity and throughput.
We opened a brand-new 45,000-square-foot facility this year that was constructed in an existing building converted to house a laundry. We classify this as new construction, although the building shell existed.
Conversely, we are currently, or have within the last 45 days, started retrofitted laundries at on-premise hotel laundries in New York City, Denver, Houston and Maui, and have another in design in Korea. Two of these projects included significant expansion of the laundry facilities (approximately 30% larger), and the others include extensive redesign and the replacement of aging production and mechanical equipment.
Another type of retrofit involves shrinking laundry operations while providing for textile distribution services. An example is a facility processing approximately 7 million pounds annually that requires clean- and soiled-textile holding, and cart makeup. Because exchange carts are used to distribute textiles to the use areas, and because our analysis demonstrated it was most cost-effective to make up exchange carts on premise rather than transport them to the outsourced textile services provider, the laundry space will be converted for other uses and also for textile holding and cart make-up functions.
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for Part 6.Matt Alexander, Pertl & Alexander, can be reached at 888-419-3444, J. Mata, ARCO/Murray National Construction Co., can be reached at 630-599-9100, O’Neill, American Laundry Systems, can be reached at 978-373-1883, Phillips, Phillips & Associates, can be reached at 763-231-9950, Rose, Turn-Key Industrial Engineering Services, can be reached at 434-227-2613,

About the author

Bruce Beggs

American Trade Magazines LLC

Editorial Director, American Trade Magazines LLC

Bruce Beggs is editorial director of American Trade Magazines LLC, including American Coin-Op, American Drycleaner and American Laundry News. He was the editor of American Laundry News from November 1999 to May 2011. Beggs has worked as a newspaper reporter/editor and magazine editor since graduating from Kansas State University in 1986 with a bachelor’s degree in journalism and mass communications. He and his wife, Sandy, have two children.


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