Site Selection Philosophy
|"These buildings will be here for hundreds of years—long after we [have] relocated the last tenant, or written the last report. They should be in the right location—that is our overriding responsibility."
Jan Ziegler, Former Assistant Regional Administrator,
Site selection has a long-lasting impact on every real estate decision that GSA makes. The process, issues, and criteria that support this decision are of great importance, not only to GSA, but also to the local and federal communities, the environment, and future generations.
This Guide offers Regional Offices a framework for addressing important actions and performing evaluations in the selection of sites for federal facilities. GSA recognizes that every site selection is unique and that each Project Team ultimately determines the best process for their project. The following discussion outlines the intent and philosophy of the federal government when selecting sites for new federal facilities.
a courthouse emerged when the city’s plans
changed. The project’s ability to anchor
Main Street and a study of parking impacts
won the city’s support.
Location of federal facilities involves both the general area and the specific site. The location of a federal facility speaks volumes, a message heard years after construction is complete. It dictates almost everything that follows, from transportation access and environmental impact; to the federal government’s involvement with local initiatives and economies; to the placement, form, and cost of the building.
The selected site has a major impact on the customer agency in terms of convenience, access, and the quality of the work environment. It also has an impact on the project’s initial and life cycle costs and on the community’s economy, sense of place, and social fabric.
Federal law and Executive Orders (E.O.s) address location choices. The Rural Development Act requires that agencies give first priority to rural areas, unless the agency mission or program requirements call for locations in an urban area. For projects located in urban areas, the primary Executive Orders that impact location are E.O. 12072 (“Federal Space Management," which requires first consideration to centralized community business areas) and E.O. 13006 (“Locating Federal Facilities on Historic Properties in Our Nation’s Central Cities," which requires first consideration to historic properties within historic districts).
|What does it mean to build sustainability?
Choose site, design, construction, and operational practices that significantly reduce or eliminate the negative impact of buildings, construction, and operation on the environment and the occupants.
GSA and the federal government have developed many programs and initiatives that support responsible development and stewardship of federal facilities. While each of these initiatives has its own identity, it is important to recognize the synergies among programs, especially how programs support and inform each other. Site selection lays the earliest groundwork for implementing these initiatives, so it is important to address the numerous initiatives in a coordinated fashion.
The Department of the Treasury
acquired a brownfield site from
the District of Columbia for the
new Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco,
and Firearms national headquarters.
The site is being developed in
conjunction with a new Metro station.
This commitment will anchor
revitalization of this area.
Design Excellence and Construction Excellence
The choice and development of the building site should be considered the first
step of the design process. Finding the best site for the project enhances design
and construction excellence. The right site helps the Project Team and design professionals to address issues of quality, community, cost, security, and sustainability.
Sustainability and Environmental Quality
As the government’s largest landlord, GSA is in a unique position to protect the environment while providing a quality workspace for its customer agencies. GSA strives to balance short-term project costs with long-term operations, environmental, social, and human benefits while meeting the intended needs of the facility. GSA is committed to incorporating principles of sustainable design and energy efficiency into all of its building projects, aiming for a Silver LEED rating for all of its projects. A commitment to sustainability begins with the site location—avoiding development of inappropriate sites, reducing the environmental impact of building on a site, channeling development to areas with existing infrastructure, and locating near alternative means of transportation.
E.O. 13123 (“Greening the Government Through Efficient Energy Management") challenges the federal government to lead the nation in energy efficient building design, construction, and operation. Furthermore, the government can promote energy efficiency, water conservation, and the use of renewable energy products and help foster markets for emerging technologies. The federal government also is committed to reducing distances driven by its workers, promoting clean air, designing for local climate conditions, and building in areas that already have a supporting infrastructure.
Sites for federal facilities do not have to be pristine to be selected, but they must support public health. The Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act (CERCLA) regulates the disclosure, disposal, and remediation of contaminants and allows potentially problematic sites to be improved through the development of federal facilities. Successful projects built on brownfields have been instrumental in improving water quality, beautifying an eyesore, or restoring community character.
The National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) mandates that all agencies use a systematic, interdisciplinary approach to planning and evaluating potential environmental impacts of projects. Related Executive Orders further mandate wetlands protection, floodplain management, and environmental justice. The investigation and evaluation of potential sites respond to these requirements.
State environmental laws often are more stringent than federal law. The federal government intends to follow both state and federal laws.
Projects that use historic sites and buildings can serve as examples for successful reclamation and reuse of cultural/historic resources and signal the government’s commitment to historic preservation, sustainability, and local communities. These projects set forth the federal government’s commitment to provide leadership in the preservation of historic resources and to foster conditions where modern development can coexist with historic properties. The architectural and cultural attributes of historic buildings and sites must be considered to ensure that projects are carried out with a minimum adverse effect on qualities that contribute to their significance.
Section 106 of the National Historic Preservation Act (NHPA) describes the process by which federal agencies, in consultation with the Advisory Council on Historic Preservation, must consider potential effects on historic properties. When operationally appropriate and economically prudent, E.O. 13006 requires that federal agencies give first consideration to properties within historic districts when selecting locations for their facilities (subject to the requirements of the Rural Development Act and E.O. 12072).
The federal government is committed to earning multiple returns on its projects by making a positive contribution to the existing community in economical, physical, and social terms. Over the past fifty (50) years, the federal government has been directed to address community issues through E.O. 12072, the Public Buildings Cooperative Use Act, and the Federal Urban Land Use Act. At the heart of these directives is early and open communications with local officials and consideration of local planning efforts. GSA can identify and support benefits to the community through dialogue with stakeholders, especially local officials, residents, and the public. The dialogue begins early in the community planning stage and continues through the project development and site selection process.
At the beginning of site selection, the Site Investigation Team should consider how each site offers the potential to coordinate federal resources and strategies with local development and improvement efforts. Areas of common interest may include urban design, parking, mass transit, personal and property security, traffic flow, neighborhood conditions, local area activities, and employee and visitor amenities.
The city organized a
community design exercise
to study the proposed locations
for a new downtown federal
courthouse. The design exercise
process helped resolve initial
conflicts regarding location and
led to agreement on a site that
was successful for all.
Security has become a major concern in the construction of federal buildings; GSA serves as a leader in the nation’s efforts to protect the American people and the federal workforce. A site can provide a safe working environment without becoming a fortress, isolated from the community. Each facility has its own risk assessment; however, there are some general requirements that affect most sites. All new federal buildings should have a minimum standoff distance of fifty (50) feet. Some specialized facilities may require a higher standard of security.
GSA recognizes that dense urban areas and historic properties may require an exemption from the standoff distance and, possibly, from blast criteria. Exemption from the PBS Commissioner must be issued for any reduction or modification of that requirement. In the Commissioner’s words, “The ‘achievement’ of this standoff distance must be based on the feasibility of the site to accommodate a pragmatic, efficient, reasonable, cost-effective, and well-designed facility.”
Federal projects have an enduring impact on the community at large and on the immediate neighborhood. Many individuals and groups benefit from the location and development of a federal facility. Federal investment in each facility can enhance local efforts for economic development or historic preservation, or it may draw attention and resources away from local projects.
Building relationships and creating local partnerships are effective tools in managing political and local concerns. Working in partnership with other groups (state, regional, or city organizations; local community groups; or local developers) can bring additional intellectual resources to a project and involves additional stakeholders in the process. Local partnerships also may attract additional funding and financial resources to the project.
A recent GSA-commissioned study explains why communities value high-traffic public agencies (including USPS, IRS, SSA, U.S. Trustees, and U.S. Courts). In one large northeastern city, the direct spending by federal employees and visitors alone exceeded $80 million, enough to support more than one hundred (100) small businesses. In site selection, knowing the relative impacts of various agencies can help with site evaluation and tenant mix.
Understanding the local point of view is important in assessing the opportunity for and impact of site selection and facility development. Local politics and political influence are a part of every site selection and should be addressed from the beginning.
The goal of every project is a successful design and building—successful for the user, the community, the federal government, and the environment. Project management is one of the keys to a successful project. The following components are critical to successful project management.
Federal projects involve many, many people and generate significant interest and discussion within the community. One of the keys to successful communications is the early clarification of expectations and the project’s ability to meet those expectations. Managing the flow of information is critical to successful internal and external communications; it is equally important to know when and how to share information.
It is beneficial to develop a project Communications Plan and use a Communications Specialist. This specialist creates a Communications Plan for all of the stakeholders (GSA, the customer agency, local officials and developers, congressional delegations, neighboring property owners, residents, and business community members) and the media. The plan also should identify issues of common interest, opportunities, and schedules for communications with different groups of stakeholders.
|The following are some activities that have a major influence on the schedule:
The Project Team evolves and changes over the life of the project, as different expertise is required at different phases. The Asset/Portfolio Manager starts initial project planning. As the Project Team evolves, the Project Manager (PM) oversees all project activities through construction. The PM is responsible for continuity and availability of information and communications through all phases of the project.
Once the team begins preliminary fact-finding for sites, Site Investigation Team members are added to the Project Team. A Site Specialist is generally chosen to lead the Site Investigation Team. The Team Leader should be experienced with the process; the team should include staff and consultants who understand the goals and requirements of the site selection and acquisition process. GSA’s Center for Construction and Project Management has developed strong supporting tools and processes to guide Project Managers and their teams.
The multiple interests of the customer, the local community, and the federal government are not always in full agreement. The Project Team considers and prioritizes all concerns when evaluating sites and determines which factors are critical.
The key tool for successful project management is the Project Management Plan (PMP). Using the PMP as the foundation, the site selection phase of a project has its own Work Plan, which identifies schedule, budget, staffing, and work tasks for that phase. The Site Selection Work Plan helps the team coordinate their tasks, plan the work process, understand the roles and responsibilities of GSA staff and contractors, and chart the anticipated schedule.
Developing support among decision-makers and obtaining project approvals are necessary for the success of the project. Identifying who is responsible for making each decision and recognizing when decisions are needed are equally important. Timely communications and advanced planning support confident decision-making.
Priorities and Requirements
While federal laws, regulations, and directives contain myriad requirements, it is the responsibility of the Region and the Site Investigation Team to determine the requirements and priorities for each project. The priorities set during the Feasibility Study should be reviewed and confirmed prior to beginning the site selection process. Additional priorities and requirements may be added as the project progresses and
as new policies and directives are implemented.
GSA and the city formalized
a partnership to obtain a
well-located brownfield site
for the new courthouse, consistent
with the city’s economic
development program and planning
goals and with GSA’s programmatic
Many site issues can impact the project delivery schedule—from assembling multiple parcels, to relocating displaced owner/occupants and tenants, to mitigating environmental problems. The site’s characteristics influence the time needed for data collection and evaluation of environmental and historic conditions (for the NEPA and NHPA processes), negotiation and acquisition, and site preparation (relocation of owner/occupants and tenant studies, remediation, demolition, and construction of infrastructure).
Community involvement and support can be effective tools in moving the process forward, and adequate time must be included in the schedule for all of these activities. The project schedule identifies and tracks the critical path for site selection activities. By preparing the project time line and noting key activities and milestones, the team is able to anticipate and plan for potential scheduling issues.
Regular status updates of the project schedule support the management of team activities and timely project completion.
Financial performance is measured in several ways—initial costs, rent rates, life cycle costs, and community costs. The project site has an impact on all of these, especially the initial acquisition costs, which can be substantial, and the construction and operational costs. For this reason, the investigation should include site analysis and studies by a design professional to test the impact of the program on the site before final selection is made. This information is used to determine the infrastructure budget and other site-related costs and to forecast the rent rates, based on the location and quality of the building.
GSA and customer agency financial performance are critical determinants of the success of a project. However, external relationships can impact the project’s financial performance as well. Partnerships with local government or developers can contribute other financial resources that can lead to a successful project. These partners may be able to donate a site, share costs, or provide access to additional funding not available to the federal government. GSA is committed to maximizing the return on investment dollars in ways that support the community wherever possible while providing the best site and financial performance to the customer agency.
Excellence in site selection is both a commitment and a process. It is a commitment to provide GSA customers with well-located, high-quality sites for quality workspaces, public spaces, buildings, and landscapes. It is also a process of researching, evaluating, and selecting a site that can best serve the interests of the federal government, the users, and the community.