Planning Ahead

July 1, 2003
Preconstruction planning is essential when undertaking the challenges of a renovation or expansion.

Any education construction project needs specialized planning professionals to ensure that the project meets the school's program needs, stays on schedule and within budget, and causes minimal disruption to ongoing campus activities. When schools and universities are undertaking a renovation or expansion, the normal challenges involved in design and construction are heightened by the risks associated with existing building conditions, the logistics of construction in a tight space and, often, continued occupation of the building.

Preconstruction planners perform a number of specialized services that can yield significant cost savings: professional estimating, budget development, constructibility reviews, value engineering, construction strategy and schedule development, risk analysis and contingency management, and procurement strategy development. They can help ensure a project succeeds by providing administrators and the design team with the tools needed to carry out a project.

The earlier professional preconstruction planners begin work on a project, the greater their ability to identify cost reductions, enhance quality, improve constructibility and increase schedule efficiency. Cost savings realized through high-quality preconstruction planning often can be reinvested in project enhancements.

Professional preconstruction planners also can help minimize the need for redesign by identifying construction issues early and collaborating with architects and engineers in developing solutions. Therefore, preconstruction planners should be involved in the project from the start of the programming phase.

In the details

Detailed estimates can be useful at every stage of design documentation by explicitly defining the components, scope and cost of all building systems. Among the estimating tools is benchmarking, which is used both for developing cost breakdowns and to verify that the estimated costs of each component of the project and system fall within the proper range for projects of that type and complexity.

The benchmarking process isolates each major building component and system, and compares projected costs with those of projects that are of similar type, scope and geographic location. Typically, estimators look first at the building systems, then at the concepts behind the building design and, finally, at specific equipment and materials. This information is used to develop, verify and manage the project's budget.

Development of a well-structured project cost estimate and schedule in the early planning phase sets the stage for wise decisions by the entire project team. The planning process requires that the decisions made by the institution and its design team are compared continually with project goals and cost estimates.

As the project design progresses, cost estimates will provide increasing levels of detail, with important milestones at schematic design, design development (50 percent and 100 percent), and construction documentation (50 percent and 90 percent) stages. In the case of the mechanical system, for example, benchmarking would progress from the overall cost of the air-handling system, to the cost of delivering the total required air volume, to the cost of delivering the required air volume per square foot of floor area, to the costs of the individual components of the air-handling system (fans, ductwork and diffusers).

A construction strategy

Based on extensive knowledge of the construction processes, a preconstruction planning team develops a construction strategy and schedule designed to meet a school's targeted completion date. Renovation and expansion projects typically are complicated by existing building conditions, the logistics of construction in a tight space and the presence of building occupants.

An effective construction strategy involves many elements, including construction phasing, relocation and protection of occupants, careful sequencing and coordination of trades, maintenance of access and egress, effective construction staging, weather protection, and efficient routing of equipment, materials and tradespeople.

The execution strategy is a communications tool. It anticipates the types of information required by school officials, designers and construction workers in order to communicate, manage and operate as a team. The execution plan not only outlines the cost and schedule objectives of a project, but also assembles the numerous detailed procedures required to manage a complex design and construction project. These include submission prequalification and procurement procedures, project cost reporting and tracking. Everything is delineated carefully so the entire team understands how to operate and provide a cost-effective execution.

Reviews and workshops

The preconstruction planning team should perform constructibility reviews and conduct value-engineering workshops on every project to identify opportunities to build better facilities for less. This can free resources that can be reinvested in enhancements. For example, the team may identify opportunities to save money through simplified installation details, prefabrication or construction standardization. Recommendations may be made for achieving the best value for materials or for minimizing trade interdependencies and the effects of site and weather conditions.

Value-engineering workshops examine whether more cost-effective ways are available to meet the same performance goals without sacrificing scope, quality or architectural appeal. Taking this approach, the preconstruction planning team will look at how individual components and systems meet a building's performance goals, then at the design standards and sizes of those systems and components, and finally at the materials and finishes. An experienced construction manager maintains a database for projects of similar program scope and building type from which to draw, analyze and compare costs, and to develop value-engineering solutions.

Sources of savings

Savings also may be realized through effective risk analysis and contingency planning. This is especially important with renovations and expansions of older buildings, for which as-built drawings may be nonexistent or difficult to interpret. Records of building modifications that have taken place over a number of years may not exist.

During the preconstruction planning process, the team also identifies any needs for early procurement of equipment and materials with long lead times, not only to ensure that the schedule is met, but also to reduce costs. The procurement of equipment and materials typically is spelled out in the project-execution strategy developed by the planning team, coordinating their arrival at the optimal time in the construction process.

An initial investment in preconstruction planning can result in considerable cost savings. The key is to involve a professional construction manager as an integral member of the project team at the programming stage. Preconstruction planning is important to the success of any education building project and is absolutely essential when undertaking the challenges of a renovation or expansion.

Arsht is vice president of Skanska USA Building Inc., Parsippany, N.J. Skanska was responsible for preconstruction planning for the Princeton projects. Architect for the Marquand Library of Art and Archaeology was Shepley Bulfinch Richardson and Abbott. Architect for Robertson Hall was Ford Farewell Mills and Gatsch (see sidebar below).


Preconstruction planners perform a number of specialized services that can yield significant cost savings:








SIDEBAR: Seeking services early

When Princeton University, Princeton, N.J., decided to renovate and expand the Marquand Library of Art and Archaeology, it immediately involved preconstruction planners. The 63,000-square-foot project calls for underground and third-floor additions, as well as the complete renovation of four stories, including all new mechanical systems, lighting and finishes with extensive millwork.

The project also includes installation of two new elevators, a new 12,000-square-foot plaza at the north entry of McCormick Hall, renovation of swing space on campus, and the temporary relocation of the library staff and collections. Preconstruction planning began in 2000, and it was determined that before full-scale construction, McCormick Hall would need an elevator to allow access for those with disabilities.

The elevator was completed in November 2001, and full-scale construction began in March 2002 so the building can be reoccupied this summer. A tight site at the center of the campus requires ongoing construction sequencing and coordination to maintain a safe environment for the college community and construction workers. Close coordination of deliveries, work vehicles and debris removal is necessary daily. Emergency egress routes are maintained at all times.

At Princeton's Robertson Hall, a recent 75,000-square-foot, two-phase renovation of a combined office, classroom and lecture facility involved the removal and replacement of all building systems, as well as an architectural reconstruction of the interior spaces, including extensive millwork and finishes.

The renovation included infilling of the second- and third-floor mezzanines to turn an existing three-story library into office space. It also included two new additions that house classrooms. All mechanical, electrical and life-safety systems were replaced with new systems. The exterior received new windows, skylights and repairs to the plinth and some existing window systems. Preconstruction planning began in November 1999, field construction began in May 2000, and the project was completed in August 2002.

The original design of the all-concrete structure presented many challenges, including access to existing utilities. This required preconstruction planners to work closely with architects and engineers on the design and construction methods necessary to replace systems. For example, fourth-floor pits housing piping and ductwork were fed from the third-floor ceiling but were not accessible from the third floor. The design team was planning to replace all of the ductwork and piping. However, constructibility reviews and testing revealed usable ductwork and piping that would have been expensive to remove and replace. Replacement of the piping would have required a design with many turns, creating potential maintenance problems. As a result, reusable elements were incorporated into the design.

Working in an occupied building on a tight site required careful construction sequencing and coordination, maintenance of access and emergency egress, and the installation and maintenance of temporary structures and utilities. Effective preconstruction planning, including constructibility reviews and value engineering, helped to reduce costs significantly.

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