Mug Paul Erickson 60c78ae219b3f

Learning Under Construction

June 1, 2021

For most major school additions or renovations, it is common for students to be attending classes in the building while construction is underway. In these scenarios, it is vital that the architects and contractors strive to minimize disruption during school operations.

To assure a project runs smoothly while a school is operating, begin with the planning and design stage. Once a school’s needs are known, determine the building student capacity—taking advantage of any “swing space” in the building that may be available. Classes and other activities could be relocated while certain areas of the facility are under construction. Also, it is vital to understand how mechanical system air handling units are zoned and ductwork routed; this enables workers to easily shut off building wings without affecting air distribution in occupied areas. Also, verifying the routing of existing main electrical feeders and switchgear is critical to ensure continuous power sourcing to occupied spaces.

Transparency in communications with school administrators is essential for planning workable construction sequences. The building principal and head maintenance person must have direct influence in planning safe routes for students, noise and odor control, and building security.

Organize construction sequencing and phasing to take advantage of summer recess. That’s when to schedule the most disruptive construction activities (e.g., roofing, demolition, system shutdowns). Phasing, temporary circulation routes, and sequencing may extend over several years, so thorough planning is needed. During design, it is essential to meet with administrators, staff and students to understand daily operations, circulation routes, after-school activities, and pickup and drop-off routes.

To complete a project with the least disruption, architects and engineers should incorporate these strategies:

  • Prepare sequencing drawings with start-finish dates of areas.
  •  Have a “scheduling cushion” to absorb unforeseen construction events during each construction sequence.
  •  In bid documents, identify restrictions for construction access, staging, deliveries, noise, and construction hours.
  •  Specify temporary facilities and partitions, HVAC zoning and filtering, emergency systems, and dust controls for occupant safety.
  •  Require a contractor to maintain a three-week “look-ahead” construction schedule.
  • Require that contractor insurance documents be in place prior start of construction.
  • Establish liquidated damages for finish date(s).
  • Require a tobacco- and drug-free work environment.
  • Hold a pre-bid meeting with bidders to stress building requirements.
  • Conduct pre-award and pre-construction meetings with contractor(s) to confirm required project protocols.
  • Conduct weekly meetings with school representatives, contractor, and engineers to review and update construction sequences.
  • Document decisions on construction operations, temporary zoning, protection measures and security protocols.
  • Visit the site weekly or as needed to discuss adjustments that may be needed to keep the project on schedule.

It is essential to see the big picture and zero in on details to minimize disruption of daily school operations. The architects and engineers should collaborate with school officials to develop plans for:

  • Dates for construction start, finish and final occupancy
  • Student access routes; zoning of building and site areas; temporary exits to eliminate dead-end corridor
  • Ventilation, lighting, alarm, and utility systems that must be operational during construction.
  • Properly constructed temporary partitions to protect students.
  • Construction fencing to zone off areas from students and staff.
  • After-school-hours system shutdowns and switchovers.
  • “Fire watch” (at contractor’s expense) as a last resort to maintain operational emergency systems with prior approval.
  • Designated staging areas protected from students and public.
  • Temporary signage as required by code and for wayfinding.

Erickson, AIA/NCARB/REFP, executive officer & partner, is past president of ATSR Planners/Architects/Engineers ( in Minneapolis, Minn. Erickson has 40+ years of specializing in school planning, design, and construction. He can be reached at [email protected].

Sponsored Recommendations

Latest from Facility Planning