What is a Master Plan in Construction?

When an organization is ready to consider a major renovation, addition, or new facility, it’s important to first develop a master plan.

A master plan is a way for organizations to get a big-picture view of their long-term needs and goals, all contained within a single document. The plan may span a timeframe of as little as five years or as much as 20 years or more, and typically includes a phased approach to growth to minimize disruptions and account for financial needs. It’s a document that lives on with the facility and isn’t “owned” by a single person or department, helping ensure its relevance for years to come.

With a well-thought-out master plan in hand, organizations can help ensure that renovations, additions, and new buildings constructed today won’t undermine long-term goals or end up costing more time and money down the road with your next project.

What Types of Organization Should Have a Master Plan?

The master planning process isn’t necessarily for everyone. While a smaller organization may have a master plan, it’s typically not as extensive as those for bigger organizations. Those that benefit most from a master plan tend to be larger companies, municipalities, and government facilities. There may be multiple buildings or a single, larger one that may not have a lot of changes in a single year, yet needs flexibility to accommodate future growth and potential changes. 

A county government facility master plan, for example, may have a 10- to 20-year life cycle that outlines current staffing levels and needs along with expectations for the future. It outlines projected staff growth during that time frame and whether more space will be needed. Another consideration is how mechanicals like HVAC systems will be maintained and when they’ll need to be replaced or phased out. 

Many municipal buildings like courthouses are historic facilities that may also have structural issues that need addressing over time. Consider an older masonry courthouse where the exterior brick and mortar is beginning to show signs of deterioration. It may not need to be fixed immediately, but probably will need tuckpointing within the next five years to prevent more costly problems. It’s these types of projects that should be identified and included in a master plan to help anticipate when funds will be needed and how they will be obtained.

Sometimes, master plans for government projects require public buy-in and referendums because the implications may impact property taxes. In these instances, the construction manager helps coordinate informational public forums to gather taxpayer input and opinions.

How is a Master Plan Developed?

Several players that might be involved in the development of a master plan include the facilities manager and staff, building committee members, key stakeholders, architects, speciality consultants, and a construction manager who helps guide conversations, conduct interviews, and ask the right questions. 

The architect and or construction manager also conducts a thorough facility assessment, identifying, photographing, and documenting issues and opportunities. Some areas to note might include accessibility concerns, structural issues, poorly located entries, exterior building conditions, department layout, mechanical systems, presence of potential contaminants, and more.  

All knowledge gleaned from interviews and assessments are collated to help identify trends that need to be addressed now and in the future. From there, designers and estimators play a role by developing conceptual floor plans and block diagrams with basic concepts. 

Because master plans are intended to be living, breathing documents that are referenced regularly, adjustments and additions can be included in the years to come to address any emerging concerns.

When it comes time to address issues down the road, organizations will be less likely to face surprises and will have already had an opportunity to plan for projected expenses. They’ll also be able to address issues in a timely manner knowing they won’t have to start planning from scratch.

Without a master plan, an organization could end up just placing a band-aid or temporary fix that ends up causing problems later on. Renovating a particular department or adding several small additions onto a building every few years, for example, might alleviate current capacity needs as they arise. However, it could cost more money and be more disruptive over time compared to having a little more foresight and planning for the right-size structure. If the organization is ready to begin a major renovation/addition down the road, working around several small additions will typically be far more difficult than if it were properly considered in the first place.

Successful construction projects involve much more than providing an attractive and functional finished product. A true construction partner helps organizations plan for their futures by laying a foundational plan that can sustain them for many years to come. Contact the construction management team at The Samuels Group today to gain a deeper understanding of this strategic approach to long-range facility planning, and check out the guide below outlining additional questions to bring to the table.

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