Establishing Core Facilities

A designated core research facility is defined as a staffed shared research instrumentation facility that provides highly complex or specialized scientific support, for internal and external users, using high cost equipment typically funded through sponsored program funding. Such facilities most often originate as a result of a sponsored program project with the intent to purchase high dollar value, technical equipment, and establish the infrastructure required to support the facility.

Different from discrete instrumentation, core facilities provide access to instruments, computational resources, technologies, services, as well as expert consultation and other services at a reasonable price to multiple groups to support diverse research activities.  A recharge center, the core facility is intended to provide high quality data and analysis to qualifying scientists at the University and the greater scientific and clinical research community in order to enhance publication rates, successful grant applications, and teaching and outreach activities.

Core Facility Designation 

In order to designate a core facility, the facility director must submit a Core Facility Request form to the Office of the Vice President for Research that:

For additional information, see Best Practices for Core Facilities: Handling External Customers

Business Plan

Successful administration of service centers/core facilities begin with the core director and facility manager establishing a business plan.  Typical components to include:

  • Purpose of the core facility and description of offerings
  • Identification of instrumentation
  • Standard Operating Policies and Procedures
    • identification of pertinent cost accounting regulations, such as the Uniform Guidance - specialized service facilities
    • internal processes, such as sound billing practices 
      • consider scheduling vs actual equipment usage charges
        • decide whether to bill for scheduled time, logged time, or both
        • determine if there are special cases which can cause higher overhead costs and, therefore, require high rates
      • identify core workflow commonalities
      • keep good records
      • obtain and track approvals
        • Are quotes provided before work is started?
        • Who is allowed to approve intended work?
        • What financial approval is needed?  How is it established? If under a certain dollar threshold, can approval be automatic?
      • have oversight capabilities in place with ability to:
        • review and approve requests before work is begun
        • suggest and provide accurate and appropriate payment information up-front for important requests
        • review invoices and adjust cost center/project number prior to processing bill
        • allow for transparency into charges at any time before and after invoicing
      • keep charges organized and descriptive
      • bill timely, consistently, and include cost breakdown on invoice:
        • For whom was the work?
        • What services were provided?
        • Where was the work completed and, if appropriate, by which facility?
        • How will it be paid?  Include invoice/payment number.
      • set standards for managing collections
      • develop reports on core usage and spending
      • accounts will usually be set up as sales and service accounts
  • Projected annual goals, such as:
    • grow internal and external customer bases
    • increase utilization
    • offer new services
    • increase subsidies
  • Management structure
  • Cost effectiveness / Self-sustainability
  • Review and evaluation process



Fee Structure

Funds to pay user charges can come from a variety of sources: internal users (e.g., federal and non-federal grants and contracts, institutional funds, other sources); and external users (e.g., third parties, etc.). In general, there should be a fee structure established for internal users of a specified service and a fee structure for external users of a specified service.  

The costs associated with use of the core facility must be allocated on a consistent basis for all users.  As a result, fee structures typically will be set at a per item/service cost although differential pricing is allowable for large quantity purchases, high-volume usage, off-peak usage, etc.  For example, set-up costs need to be include in the fee structure; a high volume project may require only one set-up so this could be reflected in the differential pricing.  

If an instrument is acquired or core staff supported from a sponsored project, that PI's usage can be given preferential treatment if it is documented that:

  1. such treatment does not constitute the equivalent of a reduced rate;
  2. such preferential treatment does not increase the rates for any other users;
  3. the preferential treatment is clearly defined in the operating policies and procedures of the core facility; and,
  4. similar terms are available to any PI willing to donate equipment or provide staff support. Internal support/usage from other institutional grants or funds must be tracked and documented in order to justify revenue/expenditure numbers for recharge or access purposes.  

The setting of the fee structure must be derived from past and projected use, and the proposed fee structure must include:

  • consumables;
  • any additionally supplies necessary.

Documentation and justification for rates paid by all users must be available for review.   

See FAQs for Costing of NIH-Funded Core Facilities (NOT-OD-13-053) for additional information.

Review, Evaluation, and Renewal

Frequent Review for Cost Effectiveness/Sustainability

The core director and manager must frequently review rates, resources, sources of funding, regulations, and overall business processes to determine cost effectiveness. 

Ideally, core facilities will be self-supporting.  However, it is recognized that most are seldom fully self-sustaining; thus core facilities typically receive some central institutional support and recoup a significant portion of operational costs are typically covered from user fees and departmental/other contributions (supplies, FTE, maintenance, etc.).  

Each Core Facility Director must routinely track a variety of required metrics in order to complete the Core Facility Evaluation form each year and provide to the VPR or designee.  Users of each Core Facility may be contacted for input and evaluation information.  

Use of UM Core Facility

Research core facilities provide highly complex or specialized scientific support, for internal and external users, using high cost equipment typically funded through sponsored program funding. Such facilities most often originate as a result of a sponsored program project with the intent to purchase high dollar value, technical equipment, and establish the infrastructure required to support the facility. 

Use by Faculty, Staff, and Students

Faculty, enrolled students under the supervision of faculty and other employees of the University of Montana, who are acting within the course and scope of their employment, may be assigned to use research facilities/equipment on the University of Montana campus upon receiving appropriate approval from the Department Head, Dean or direct supervisor.

  • Research facilities include laboratories and other facilities used for the conduct of creative activities/research, but do not include the Library or any regular classrooms.
  • Research equipment includes highly specialized or complex equipment such as NMR, Mass Spec Unit, Computer main frame, etc.

Use by Research Collaborator

Research collaborators may use research facilities of the University to work on collaborative projects.  Research is collaborative if the University and industrial researchers have real and substantial intellectual involvement in joint planning and conduct of experiments, observations, or the like.  Research collaborators will be charged the same fee as UM faculty are charged for the use of facilities, equipment or personnel.  It is not considered collaborative research if the University researcher provides little more than access to University-based equipment or facilities.  Also, it is not collaborative research if the University researcher is acting as a private consultant to the company.

Use by Non-Affiliated Group

Non-affiliated groups may use research facilities/equipment only if the use will not disrupt regular academic, laboratory or research programs of the University; the facility/equipment is not needed by University affiliated faculty, students or other employees at the time requested.  For purposes of this policy, faculty, staff or students performing consulting work or otherwise providing a service for an entity other than the university are considered noon-affiliated groups. These will be contracted through Business Services.

  1. Non-affiliated groups may apply to use the facilities/equipment by submitting a written request to the Department Head of the department responsible for the facilities/equipment.
  2. The requester must specify if any hazardous materials, controlled substances or genetically altered materials will be used. If so, the requester must also submit an acceptable plan for the control of the materials and compliance with state and federal law before the university will approve the Research Facilities/Equipment Use Agreement.
  3. The requester must agree to:
    1. Maintain liability insurance to cover user’s activities on campus in an amount no less than One Million Dollars ($1,000,000) unless a lesser amount of insurance is approved by Legal Counsel;
    2. Indemnify and hold the University harmless for any damages arising from the user’s activities conducted in University facilities; and
    3. Reimburse the university for any damages, clean-up or hazardous waste related expenses, including disposal, shipping, damages, and/or penalties, caused by or imposed as a result of user’s use of University’s facilities/equipment.
  4. The Department Head will recommend approval/disapproval to the Dean and Vice President for Research or his/her designee. If approval is granted by the Dean and Vice President, the parties will enter into an appropriate Research Facilities/Equipment Use Agreement. This sample agreement is most appropriate for long-term use. It may be appropriate to modify the agreement for short-term use of facilities or equipment. Modifications may be made with the approval of Legal Counsel or the Voice President for Research or his/her designee.
  5. An approved user must schedule use through the appropriate individual responsible for the facility and the Department Head.
  6. The University will not subsidize any individual or business with state funds, nor will it allow a user to gain an unfair competitive advantage over other businesses. The fees charged for use will be assessed by the Department Head in consultation with a representative from Vice President for Research and will depend on the type of facilities or equipment used. Fees charged will be comparable to the prevailing market rates for space, personnel, supplies, services and equipment use.
  7. Fees will be paid to a Vice President for Research’s designated account to be administered by ORSP. The fees will be disbursed as follows:
    1. Twenty-five percent (25%) of the total will be retained for campus equipment/facility upgrades as determined by the Vice President for Research.
    2. Twenty-five percent (25%) will be returned to the Department.
    3. Fifty percent (50%) will be available to the faculty member or other University employee responsible for the facility/equipment to be used to support the facility or for other research, as approved by the Department Head.
  8. Non-affiliated persons or groups performing research in a UM facility or with the use of UM equipment by faculty, staff or students are subject to UM policies and procedures.
  9. Any misrepresentations contained in the request or agreement, use of the facilities for purposes other than those stated, or failure to comply with the University policies and procedures or the Facility Use Agreement, may be grounds for immediate cancellation of the agreement.