Summer construction on college and university campuses is ubiquitous. The minute ‘school is out’ and graduation has been held, many campuses are suddenly filled with construction equipment, materials and people in hardhats coming in and out of various buildings. If everyone seems in a hurry, it’s for good reason. The construction schedule runs from about May 15 to August 15; only 12 - 13 weeks; from when most of the students leave to when they return. Hence the term ‘summer slammer’.
It is remarkable how much can get done in that short window of time, if the proper planning and preparation has been done in advance of the start of construction. “When to do what,” is the central question.
Looking at it backwards, from the end of construction, may be the best way to sort out the critical timeline for decision making:
August 15: Work is complete, the majority of punch list items have been addressed and loose furniture and equipment is being moved in.
August 1: Substantial completion of construction, preparation of a punch list of items to be completed.
Confirmation that loose furniture and equipment will arrive on or about August 15
July 15: Finish work (painting, flooring, data wiring, millwork and fixed equipment installation) is starting or underway.
Confirmation from the various contractors that the August 15 date will be met. Corrective measures to meet the schedule are agreed to and are implemented.
July 1: Walls are going up, drywall being installed, ductwork installed, project is weather-tight, electrical rough-ins nearly finished, overhead piping installed.
June 15: Construction is in full swing. Major mechanical, electrical, plumbing and fire protection system installation is underway. Partitions layout underway with some studs in place. All demolition and abatement is complete.
June 1: Demolition is almost complete. Abatement is finishing up with the majority complete. Coordination and scheduling of construction material delivers may be a concern. The daily on-site population is increasing as more work gets underway.
May 15: Mobilization, “Make Safe” work starts, construction fence installed, abatement and demolition contractors are ready to start work. All permits are in hand. The majority of construction materials are available to be delivered upon request. Construction starts.
May 1: Final arrangements for contractor access, parking, materials storage and trash removal are made. Construction documents are in final review or completed by the various regulatory agencies.
The on-site existing conditions due diligence is complete, the entire project has been bought out; shop drawings have been submitted and reviewed, and materials are scheduled to arrive ‘just in time’. Construction barriers are ready to go up. Abutters have been informed, and the movers are ready to pack up and ‘empty’ the site. Getting everyone who needs to move in advance of the construction in a timely manner can be a challenge, but is beyond the scope of this article.
April 15: Shop drawings are under review by the consultants. A detailed construction schedule has been prepared, and reviewed by all. Notifications are sent out to all of those affected by the construction, including faculty and staff members as well as neighbors and abutters. Final negotiations are complete with all major subcontractors, and the construction cost has been agreed to.
April 1: Bids are received, and final negotiations with subcontractors is underway. A preliminary construction schedule is available and under review. Sub-contractor coordination begins and the availability of materials is confirmed. A construction cost is agreed.
March 15: Bid documents have been issued, with bids due back no later than April 1. Preliminary meetings with the various regulatory agencies have occurred or have been scheduled.
March 1: Contract Documents are complete and ready for bid. Long lead items have been identified and may already have been ordered. Administrative buy-in on the project is in place.
Getting to this point varies widely on the size and complexity of the project and the extent of programming and existing conditions investigations are required, but there are a number of key elements of every project that must be addressed:
Define the Project
Defining the project is the first and perhaps most critical step. What is to be done and why? What is the scope of the work? This effort should be well along during the summer and fall a year prior to the anticipated completion. A clear understanding of the project is key to its success, and this is especially true for Summer Slammers.
Define the Budget
What funds are available for the project? Can the project be accomplished for the fund available? Both questions must be answered in the affirmative, before proceeding. Depending on the institution, the source(s) of the funds may be a consideration. Is it a line item in an approved budget, needing no further approvals, or must approvals be sought before the money can be committed to the work?
Every project will have unexpected expenditures. The budget must acknowledge this, and include appropriate funds for contingencies. The amount will vary based on the project size and complexity. Understanding the contingency funding and expenses on past projects at the institution can help to guide the amount of money to set aside.
So called ‘soft costs’ must also be included. Aside from the design fees and construction cost, it is important to account for the cost of moving people out of and back into the project area, printing, reproduction, advertising, legal, permitting and administrative fees, supplemental consultants, testing and a myriad of other incidental project related costs.
Schedule the Work
If the end date is fixed to the start of the Fall semester, start there and work backwards. List as many of the decisions to be made as you can and who must make those decisions. Establish how much time is needed for reviews and approvals. Coordinate those periods with the academic calendar and the availability of the decisions makers. Will the right people be available at the right time? After every project, there is time required for people to move back in to reoccupy the space. Although construction may be complete, installing furniture, phones, copiers and computers takes time, and must be accounted for.
Now with some sense of how long the institution needs to move the project forward, the time needed to design, document and construct the work must be determined. Reaching out to the design and construction community can provide a good sense of how much time must be allocated to each of these phases of the project. This can be done before the selection of a particular firm or individual, or can be part of the selection process. Just as it is critical to confirm the availability of institutional project participants, it is equally critical to confirm that those selected to do the work, can do it in the time allowed. Every request for design and/or construction services should include the institution’s schedule constraints and deadlines and require the respondent to confirm that they can meet the schedule. In many cases, a proposed design and construction schedule must be provided that includes the review and decision-making timetable for the institution.
Finding the Right Consultants and Contractor
The scope is set, the budget approved and the schedule established. All that is now needed is a partner to design and document the work, and a general contractor or construction manager to build it. The time to make these selections must be included in the schedule. Each college and university has a process to select consultants. Will this process allow a timely enough selection to meet the accelerated needs of the Summer Slammer? Past performance on similar types of projects is a well-tried method for consultant and contractor selection, but it is critical to understand if the same people will be working on your project. Equally critical is the availability of the key team members during the summer construction period. It does little good to pick the right firm if many of the key people are away for major portions of the summer.
Summer slammers are a fact of college and university life and with the proper planning don’t have be the most stressful time of the academic year.