When the students are away...

>From the time teachers hand out final report cards in the spring until students return in the fall, schools and colleges have a small window to pursue major construction and maintenance projects. The slower summertime pace at most schools makes this season an ideal time for construction. But a summer schedule also poses challenges that design and construction teams must address to make sure they meet their tight deadlines and complete the project.

Plan ahead The key to fast-track summer construction is planning. The construction schedule is inflexible, so you must invest time in pre-construction planning. Ideally, the construction manager (CM) should participate extensively in pre-construction: securing completed construction documents well ahead of schedule, compiling a list of long-lead items that need to be purchased, and creating a detailed construction schedule.

At the Winsor School, a girls' facility for grades 5-12 in Boston, the architect and design team planned for months the logistics of completing three complicated additions to the school's main building during the summer.

The school wanted to expand the library and add two 3-story additions to increase classroom space, but it could not afford even a one-day delay: the school had no alternative space to hold classes if construction was not completed. Seeking to streamline the schedule, the design and construction team used the two weeks of spring vacation to construct the three foundations for the additions. By deciding months earlier upon this key step, the team could focus on finishing the foundation drawings and releasing the site package early. Workers completed the foundations and allowed the team to focus on the remaining work during the 13-week summer break.

Overruns and delays are not an option for summer projects. Imagine the astronomical costs of having an unfinished residence hall in September, forcing a school to put 150 students in a motel for two weeks. With the early and constant involvement of all parties, pre-construction can virtually eliminate any uncertainties concerning the compressed construction schedules.

For example, at Phillips Academy's Cochran Chapel in Andover, Mass., the design and construction team ordered many of the long-lead items and materials months in advance to be sure that all of the materials would arrive on schedule. A major component of the project was recreating the molding in the church. For the molding to be duplicated exactly, it had to be created from the same white oak and grain type as the original. The particular pattern was carved at a depth that could not be traced by machine. Thus, 2,000 feet of hand-carved wood had to be ordered well in advance to be ready for the September finish.

The job required a lot of scaffolding, but workers found it difficult to get the scaffolding into narrow places and as high as the steeple and spire. In response, a project manager brought in a system of cup-lock scaffolding, which is commonly used in Europe for castle and cathedral restoration. The system was able to be erected as high as 175 feet and safely permitted all trades to work on the same scaffolding.

Work as a team Initially, the architect should work with school representatives to develop a precursory set of drawings or sketches that reflect the school's basic needs. Upon completion, it is worthwhile to have the CM review the sketches, price the project and develop a preliminary schedule. This information will determine if the proposed design fits the school's budget and if the project can be completed on time.

Once planners modify the initial designs to meet the school's program, budget and scheduling requirements, the team develops final construction documents. This typically requires continual interaction between the CM and architect.

The CM should review all documents before they are finalized to ensure the project remains within budgetary and scheduling parameters. For example, the design may call for marble flooring that, although it fits into the school's program and budget, is not readily available in the time available. An architect may not have this information, but the CM should be communicating with subcontractors, and be able to suggest a more obtainable stone flooring of equal quality and price.

Keep the community informed A summer construction schedule forces the team to use an accelerated timetable. What you cannot accelerate is the time needed to communicate the plan to community members. Because town residents have children that attend classes and use schools themselves for public gatherings, their concerns are especially relevant in fast-track summer projects.

Increased traffic, noise and dust are paramount in the minds of residents, and the team must address these issues before construction begins. To alleviate these concerns, the construction and design teams should hold one or more meetings to outline the plan and diminish community anxieties. Even though the construction will usually be limited to 10 to 12 weeks, educating the public beforehand results in a smoother process once construction begins.

Before renovating the Barker Center for the Humanities at Harvard University in Boston, the design and construction team held information sessions to inform the public about the project. Because the project was near a residential area, the team felt it was crucial to work closely with the neighborhood. Before construction began, the team held another meeting to explain the plan, the location of fences and scaffolding, and how it would protect the public where scaffolding would be protruding over the sidewalk.

The community was very concerned about noise, the work hours, the routes construction vehicles would take, when cranes and other large equipment would be delivered, and where construction workers would park. As construction proceeded, the team set up a hotline for neighbors to quickly voice any concerns.

Student safety School construction also raises safety issues. Despite a slower pace, schools do not lie dormant during the summer. Summer school, camps and sporting events mean that people will constantly be on school grounds during the construction schedule. Of particular concern are inquisitive younger children, who may wander onto a construction site and get hurt.

Besides installing perimeter fencing and lighting, schools should plan programs to educate children while satisfying their curiosity about the construction. The design and construction team should work with school representatives to develop educational materials and offer supervised site tours so children can get a look at the site.

For a summer project at the Fessenden School, a private academy in Newton, Mass., the design and construction team erected a staging wall around the construction site with viewing windows. This ensured students' safety while offering an opportunity to look at the project.

To mitigate the students' curiosity during the construction, the team organized tours for students and faculty, and issued periodic newsletters to the entire school. The school also integrated the project into classroom lessons. In this way, the students were included in the project, yet were deterred from wandering into an active construction site.

Anticipate surprises Most construction projects that are begun and completed in one summer involve renovations as opposed to new construction. With thorough pre-construction planning and development of precise construction documents, standard renovations, such as installing data and telecommunications systems, can be done easily in the summer.

However, there are some issues that you cannot account for thoroughly in pre-construction, particularly in older school buildings. You might discover hazardous materials (asbestos, lead paint) or an old pipe buried behind years of unrecorded renovations.

You can anticipate many of these surprises, and they should not affect the project's parameters. Older school buildings will have structural issues, and typically contain materials such as asbestos and lead paint that were not considered hazardous 50 years ago. The construction team should have enough experience with school renovations to plan for such findings.

However, an inordinate amount of surprises can jeopardize even the most carefully planned and budgeted project. Decisive action is essential to resolve these surprises and maintain the schedule and budget. All decisionmakers on the construction and design teams need to make themselves available immediately when such cases arise.

During the ongoing summer renovations of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology's 80-year old Senior House, the university's first residence hall, workers discovered that removing lead paint would cost more than $800,000. Hand-scraping, the typical method of removal, would have delayed the entire project. To avoid this, the construction team established triple-shifts and used a power-wash system, ordinarily used on steel bridge beams, to quickly and safely remove the lead paint.

The restricted timeframe of summer construction projects presents unique challenges for the design and construction teams. While community and safety issues remain a constant, the short timetable places increased importance on the project's pre-construction phase. It is vital that the project is scrupulously budgeted and scheduled to guarantee, despite unexpected issues that may arise, the project is completed within the school's budget and before the first class of the new year.

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