Get Ready, Get Finished, Get Out

Many school upgrades and repairs are too distracting and disruptive to be performed during the school year. Often, the best time is during the summer when the students are on break and the campus is quieter. The key to success for these so-called “summer slammers” projects — whether they are small scale renovations/additions or activities attached to a larger construction project — is thoughtful, early planning; setting priorities; determining a budget; finding the funds; assembling a team; defining the scope; analyzing constructability; and purchasing materials, which take time. To ensure the desired outcome, you should begin the process as early as possible — ideally in the fall or winter before the work is to be done.

Summer slammers may require more time in pre-planning than in execution to ensure that they can be accomplished within the short time period. If your school’s wish list of campus improvements will take more than one summer, you can prioritize them into manageable pieces and present them for funding together to expedite the annual budget approval process.

You might decide to hire one architect and one construction manager for all the work rather than treating each project segment as a new effort every year. This can foster a great sense of collaboration and teamwork. You garner the benefit of your team’s expertise on the most cost-efficient sequence for tackling your project components and let the economies of scale enhance your buying power to secure the best prices. Maintaining your team also saves you the time and money it takes to request proposals, interview candidates, check references and convene a new team. Of course, your contract should preserve your right to change team members if you are dissatisfied in any way.

Advantages to Planning Ahead
Every spring, schools scramble to organize summer projects in a very short period of time. Waiting until the last minute creates unnecessary stress and may result in a less than stellar work product and missed deadlines. Architects and construction managers cram months of work into just weeks and this may lead to errors or omissions. Starting early and giving your team plenty of time to plan avoids costly mistakes or unachievable project schedules, as well as disappointing results.

Clients are often surprised to learn how very long the lead times are on items needed for a small renovation. While you might expect this for elevators, HVAC units or mechanical equipment, lead times can have a great impact on the most common types of improvement projects. One typical summer project, for example, is upgrading restrooms with a change of fixtures and cosmetic improvements. Because light fixtures, toilet fixtures, partitions, ceramic tile and solid surface countertops can all have lead times of six weeks or more, starting earlier helps to ensure finishing on time.

At Phillips Academy in Andover, Mass., construction documents were 100-percent complete when we joined the Project Team in February to prepare for a summer renovation of a 22,000-square-foot dormitory built in 1922. We still needed the full four months available to us to get ready. Sixty-four custom-made replacement windows were ordered in March, with a new HVAC system and electrical fixtures pre-purchased shortly thereafter. Bathrooms were being relocated so an entire new plumbing system was required. Perhaps the most challenging part of this renovation was installing the sprinkler system — carefully snaking the piping through existing infrastructure. Executing this retrofit was time-consuming, even with the advanced planning.

Preparing for a Bigger Project

It’s not just summer renovation projects that benefit from early planning. Site preparation often includes activities that are best handled in the summer months. At The Fenn School — an independent school for boys in grades 4 through 9 — Erland joined Imai Keller Moore Architects to construct a new 16,000-square-foot meeting and performance hall in the center of this active campus. In addition to a 458-seat theater, the building also features a functional basement — a foundation system that was made more complicated by the site’s high water table, just seven feet below grade.

The project kicked off in the summer when campus activity was somewhat scaled back, although the “Summer Fenn” program required use of the proposed site as playing fields and other campus facilities for the day camp. We used the two weeks between the end of the school year and the start of Summer Fenn to cut in a temporary road for construction vehicles to keep them off the campus’s sole access road.

Utility relocation was planned for this summer period — as it often is. But here planning focused on designing an elaborate dewatering plan to combat the water table. We drilled wells to lower the water table so the site was ready for excavation.

We studied how the campus was used during the school day and found that parents would need a way to enter the campus off the main road and wait in line for their children at pick-up time. We developed a layout with jersey barriers and fencing that provided parents with a dedicated lane for access while isolating the construction area from foot traffic. All was ready for the safe return of students to The Fenn School in September.

You’ll Never Regret Being Prepared

Waiting until the last minute and scrambling to execute campus improvement projects can lead to disastrous results. Whether large or small, short or long, all construction programs are unique and present their own challenges for the team. Start planning for your summer projects as early as possible so you can take advantage of the preconstruction period to get ready. Then rest easy that your goals will be achieved on time and on budget. 

 Rick Jensen is a vice president/group manager at Erland. He is responsible for the school market.