Spotlight on Campus Construction

Colleges and universities are centers of learning and recreation. These activities are year-round, and in most cases, campuses are constantly bustling with activity—even in the summer time. When it comes to constructing or renovating campus spaces, making sure students have spaces in which to learn can be tricky, with buildings closing for work to be performed. Gwen Gilley, AIA, LEED-AP BD+C, principal, Hord Coplan Macht, has seen this scenario play out several times, and spoke with College Planning & Management about some of the strategies her firm has employed to help make the construction phase easier on students, faculty, and staff.

Q. What are some key pieces of planning when it comes to construction and keeping buildings operable?

A. There are several things to consider when working on renovation projects in occupied buildings, whether you are planning a partial renovation where some areas need to remain operable or a full renovation where operations that cannot be take offline.

For example, on the Pueblo Community College campus [in Pueblo, CO], we worked on an existing 1972 three-story academic building that included several critical programs or locations—library, testing center, science labs, general classrooms, and faculty office suites. The project scope included a renovation of these spaces and a complete replacement of all HVAC and lighting equipment, as well as upgrades of all toilet rooms to meet ADA requirements. We designed a phasing plan based on the four primary existing HVAC zones in the building. The occupants located in the zone for each phase were relocated to a separate building on campus for the duration of the respective phase, and that portion of the building was isolated from the remaining occupied portions of the building with construction barriers and temporary pathways.

Once each phase was complete, the occupants were moved back in to the completed zone, and then the subsequent zone was moved out for the next phase of construction. This process doubled the time required for the construction phase but allowed for the college to maintain all operations without any down time.

Q. Are there safety considerations that need to be taken into account?

A. Yes, there are a variety of safety considerations that should be taken during the renovation process. Building codes require a certain number of exits based on occupant loads which can’t be reduced in number during partial renovations, so we often create temporary pathways to replace an exit area that is being renovated. There can be no obstructions for building exits so it’s critical that the contractor maintain clear, safe exit pathways, with exit lights operational, sometimes in temporary locations.

A clear separation between construction zones and occupant zones is important for safety, especially when there is large construction equipment on site such as cranes, earthwork equipment, etc. Site fencing that clearly marks the construction zones and parking area, so occupants don’t enter the construction zone. Construction delivery has to be routed as to not impact the normal building deliveries or traffic.

Q. What are some of the greatest challenges when trying to keep a building open during renovation?

A. Three of the greatest challenges that come to mind when keeping a building open during a renovation are noise separation; scheduling service interruptions for electrical, plumbing, or mechanical around occupant hours; and safety of occupants from hazardous construction equipment and obstacles.