When school is out and students are gone, summer is seemingly a perfect time for Districts to implement their construction projects. However, this window of opportunity has become shorter and shorter, especially for larger modernization projects.
To ensure summer construction projects can be finished in a timely and efficient manner, there are a few things that owners, design professionals, engineers, and contractors can do.
Planning & Design
Unforeseen circumstances can stop a project dead in its tracks. Before the project begins, it is important to identify and document as many potential issues as thoroughly as possible. Historical as-built and record documents are key information that can help design professionals understand existing conditions before commencing with design. Site surveys above and below-ground are critical to locate existence of utilities that may lie within the area of construction. Maintaining accurate historical site and building information can be challenging for a short-staffed Facilities or M&O department, but doing so will save Owners time and money in the long run.
Design professionals can play a key role in helping to establish the right scope of work if brought in early in the planning process. Sometimes, what is conceived as a simple renovation can morph into a much larger project if code upgrades are triggered or scope is not properly incremented during the design and permitting process. An architect can assist by negotiating the appropriate level of upgrades with the enforcing agency and identifying phased improvements that can be accomplished over multiple summers instead of trying to do all work in one summer and running out of time. It takes a disciplined design approach to keep the scope of improvements contained.
Having a contractor partner during the design phase is another way for Owners to reduce risk. In addition to providing cost estimates, a preconstruction contractor can provide valuable input by performing constructability reviews and evaluating the viability of design options from a construction sequencing and scheduling perspective. The timing of the bidding process also plays an important part in achieving successful summer projects. Contractors require adequate time to review construction plans and fully understand the project requirements prior to mobilizing their field staff. There are submittal packages to develop, measurements to take, shop drawings to prepare, and lead times verified before materials can be ordered. Setting a bid date and issuing an NTP several weeks, if not months, before the end of the academic school year allows a contractor to prepare to hit the ground running when the end-of-the-school-year bell rings.
The reality of unforeseen circumstances for Owners is that there is no preparing for them other than to have a trusted design team and experienced contractor on board. Fostering a culture of partnership, maintaining a courteous open line of communication, and keeping cool under the pressure of schedule demands enable the building team to work together and find proactive solutions to keep the project moving. This is the definition of a collaborative environment.
RFI’s are a communication tool. However, inappropriate handling of RFI’s can greatly hinder a summer project. For that reason, they should be addressed as quickly and concisely as possible by all parties. The request for information should include the appropriate level of detail to convey the specific question accurately and clearly, with photo or video documentation where possible, as well as the level of urgency. The contractor should offer a preferred solution, if available. In turn, the design professional needs to prioritize response to RFI’s and provide clear direction with relevant graphic references to accurately convey the design intent. Oftentimes, a phone call followed up by a confirming RFI can be the most expedient way to resolve a critical issue.
Resolving RFI’s over the phone does not mean that documentation is not relevant or unnecessary. Essential to a well-managed project is the attention given to paperwork. It is easy to rationalize that a short summer project does not require as much documentation as a project that spans years. Meeting minutes to track decisions and directives, action items, and due dates help maintain accountability. It is the responsibility of all team members to stay on top of DSA paperwork from the onset of a project. Architects, engineers, owners, and contractors should set this as a priority so as not to delay inspections and approvals. The side benefit is that closeout and certification can occur in a timely manner after completion of construction.
The circumstances of construction projects can be dynamic. As such, the schedule should be reviewed and updated frequently, in concert with manpower allocated to the job. This will help keep the project on track, as well as bring attention to potential lead time or labor issues before they arise. If it looks like the project is falling behind, this knowledge will alert the team to develop recovery options before the schedule reaches any critical impact items.
These are only a few ways of ensuring that a summer construction project runs smoothly and efficiently. Put together an Owner who understands and prepares for the inherent risks of construction projects, a creative design team that has a disciplined project approach to develop design that is achievable, and an experienced contractor with solution-oriented mentality, a summer project should be a breeze.