Establishing Core Facilities

A designated core research facility is defined as a staffed shared research instrumentation facility that provides state-of-the-art technological services. 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. The core facility is intended to provide high quality data and analysis to qualifying scientsts 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:

  • identifies the equipment/instrumentation already in place, as well as that planned for integration into the core;
  • describes the proposed fee structure;
  • identifies the existing user community and anticipated usage by all users;
  • details a sustainability plan and timeframe; and, 
  • acknowledges support by the director's academic chair/director and dean.

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
    • internal processes, such as sound billing practicies 
      • consider scheduling vs actual equipment usuage 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 indended work?
        • What financial approval is needed?  How is it established? If under a certain dollar threshhold, 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

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

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 quanity 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:

  • reasonable calculations that include amortized maintenance costs;
  • administrative assessment;
  • consumables;
  • demurrage;
  • small percentage of an administrative salary/fringe/health insurance for duties such as billing, etc,, set-up costs; and,
  • 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.