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How Building Occupants And Construction Can Co-Exist


In a perfect world, construction and renovation would happen in a vacuum. But when the contractor and the occupants’ timelines clash, both parties have to work together to create a solution that maintains safety and minimal disruption. 

Contractors have to collaborate with clients to find a solution that meets public safety, comfort and financial concerns.

Temporary structures that house residents or employees off-site during renovations allow construction and daily life to continue uninterrupted. Rollins College in Winter Park, Florida, relied on temporary trailers for teaching and research during the $23M renovation of its science facilities. A parking lot housed the eight trailers, and contained classrooms and labs. While temporary facilities expedited the construction process, costs added up. Rollins College spent $585K to temporarily displace students and faculty. 

Smaller projects are more likely to use swing space, but finding enough temporary space becomes a challenge in larger developments. 

Another method combines swing space and construction in phases. If a complex has access to vacant buildings, managers can move occupants to those spaces during construction. After completing work on the first building, they can then renovate the temporary space.  

For projects where temporary facilities cannot be used, contractors have to separate construction and renovation into even smaller phases. Following the acquisition of a complementary business, a Chicago-based supply chain management company signed an expansion lease to accommodate a significantly larger workforce. Chicago-based contractor Skender Construction planned ahead with the company to create a densifying strategy, where occupants were temporarily shifted to the recently completed expansion space on the same floor.

This solution allowed for the firm to maintain productivity without any added cost of swing space.

Depending on the space, redirecting the flow of traffic can allow construction to happen alongside normal activity. At Yale University, during the $20M renovation of its 87-year-old Gothic Revival library in 2013, contractor John Canning & Co. installed a covered pedestrian walkway running from a temporary entrance to the library's stack tower and study rooms. Students could continue to safely access the library’s 4 million books during the yearlong restoration. 

Sometimes occupants have no choice but to stay on-site. Skender Construction has managed the new construction and renovation of several projects for tech firms, law firms, universities, healthcare providers and senior living and memory care centers. Residents of the latter require 24/7 care, and moving them away from their daily routines could be detrimental to their health. Constant noise and disruption are equally damaging. Contractors have to communicate with building managers to find windows of time for noisy work, and when delivery of materials does not conflict with daily programming. 

Having a site-specific safety plan that outlines a strategy for evacuation, traffic routes and signage to direct pedestrians ensures everyone remains safe during the process. Meeting regularly with occupants to learn about what causes disruptions can help improve the process for everyone involved. Contractors should also provide end users with a “look ahead” schedule to prepare for any upcoming changes to their routines.  

Construction does not have to be a closed-door process. Allowing occupants to view the renovations through a webcam or marketing updates keeps them involved and excited. 

Contractors and end users need to decide on a construction method that fits budget, timing and safety concerns. For Skender, that means devising a plan that combines flexibility, creativity and regular communication.

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