Sustainability Scoop — May 2021

Repurposed Buildings Find New Life in Life Sciences

After COVID-19 proved many professionals could work remotely full-time, some offices decided not to renew their leases. Likewise, some malls, commercial spaces, and warehouses needed new life. This has become an opportunity for the life sciences industry to invest in existing buildings and repurpose them for high-tech research and manufacturing. Lab planners and owners looking for sustainable ways to expand their facilities without having to invest in new buildings can look to vacant office spaces and other buildings to support sustainable structures and vibrant communities.

The recent emphasis on life-saving research during the pandemic has made life science facilities more appealing—and valuable—to investors. Given that the number of Americans aged 65 and older is expected to increase by 40 percent over the next 10 years, there will likely be a greater need for medicines and equipment to care for the aging population. Not only is the market for life sciences buildings growing, but they also can be more reliable tenants for those who have invested in the space. According to Peter Rogers of Willis Towers Watson, “As a result of that capital expenditure, they tend to stay in their space longer.” If you are interested in learning more about the trends of office space conversions and attracting real estate investors, check out a recent article from Chief Investment Officer.

Boston is one place where office-to-lab conversions may have helped stabilize the commercial real estate market during the pandemic, according to BisNow. At one point during the pandemic, Massachusetts reportedly had the United States’ highest unemployment rate. Some real estate companies in the Boston area capitalized on the vacant office spaces and began converting them to lab facilities. Alexandria Real Estate Equities, for example, has at least 2 million square feet of office space under transformation, and the Boston market has seen as total of 4.7 million square feet converted, or in the process of being converted.

Take Stock Before Investing

While repurposing unused space is a sustainable option for lab expansion, converting the space to be suitable for research is more complex. An article published by Building Design and Construction lists eight important things to consider when converting an office space into a life sciences facility. Architects and lab planners should evaluate the building’s infrastructure to ensure that electrical, water, and sewer services will meet the needs of a research laboratory. Office buildings may have different floor-to-floor heights and column spacing than what is suitable for a life sciences facility, so make sure the existing space can feasibly be transformed before investing.

If you have any information or reports to share about similar lab conversions, please send it to info@i2sl.org and we’ll add it to I2SL’s E-Library.