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Postsecondary Education

NCES 2006-160
May 2006

6.5 Space Measurement Systems Compared

Chapter 3 of this manual provides specific definitions, boundaries, and measuring points for each of the critical types of areas to be measured. This section on commercial space measurement is provided for planners and facilities managers who find themselves renting space for institutional purposes from the commercial sector.

The approach to space measurement embodied in the FICM standard differs in several significant aspects from the common approach in commercial office buildings and architectural/ engineering and construction practice. Those differences can result in significant area differentials for planners and managers trying to track and equitably distribute institutional space among competing educational and research activities. Significant financial differences also occur when determining the pro rata share of space dedicated to certain activities, not the least of which is research at those institutions that seek indirect cost recovery funds for their government-sponsored research activities. In general:

  • Landlords leasing or renting space use space measurement mainly as a cost-recovery and income mechanism. They focus on all interior space, including that which is under interior walls and partitions, to maximize the leased or rented space, while ignoring vertical penetrations and exterior walls. They further prorate and allocate all shared or common areas (e.g., public lobbies, lavatories, and corridors) to all tenants in the form of a surcharge on space actually occupied by each tenant.
  • Architects, engineers, and builders tend to measure buildings in terms of gross area that often include such items as light wells, overhangs without regard to their “drip areas” over otherwise smaller areas that they protect, exterior wall projections, and open areas in multifloor spaces. This is done to provide the building owner with the age-old design and construction industries’ published measures of “project (or construction) cost per gross square foot.” One factor that favors this approach is the recognition that the higher a ratio’s denominator, the lower the result. In other words, the higher the gross area of a given building, the lower is the resulting project and construction cost per square foot.
  • The FICM system is driven by a set of cost recovery factors unlike those of any other group mentioned above; as a result, it has some characteristics in common and some characteristics at variance with each of these approaches. Those commonalities and differences are discussed below.
  • Commercial space measurement is a relatively obscure aspect of property and facilities management, but it plays a crucial role in how rental rates and space assignment records are set. There are several space measurement systems in use in North America. Many of them use identical or similar terms but interpret them in different ways. In several systems, language is not precise. All systems strive to ensure the utmost fairness to occupants and building owners, but their rules are quite complex, particularly if one system must be translated to another system. Readers contemplating the use of any particular system are encouraged to study its documentation extremely carefully, especially if it will be referenced in any legal or contractual documents. “Buyer beware” best characterizes a proper approach to this subject.

Six commercial space measurement systems are reviewed here. They are not the only systems used; there are several regional variations in use in major North American urban centers. The information presented here was written to assist readers in selecting, adapting, or translating space measurement systems. The six measurement systems studied are as follows:

  • Building Owners and Managers Association (BOMA) – new standard
  • Building Owners and Managers Association (BOMA) – old standard
  • The Real Estate Board of New York (REBNY)
  • Greater Washington Commercial Association of Realtors (GWCAR)
  • General Services Administration (GSA) – former system
  • International Facility Management Association (IFMA)

Some general comments about the overall characteristics of each system will help the reader understand the basic nature of each system. The six systems on a scale ranging from most landlord-oriented to most tenant-oriented are shown in figure 6-1.

Figure 6-1. Six commercial space measurement systems and the FICM on a scale from most landlord-oriented to most tenant-oriented

Figure 6.1. Six commercial space measurement systems and the FICM on a scale from most landlord-oriented to most tenant-oriented