5 steps to start preparing for summer construction projects

For higher ed leadership teams, summer is the busy season
Adam Gogolski
Adam Gogolski

Take these five steps when preparing for campus renovations, repairs and maintenance projects during the busy summer months.

For most college students, summer is a time to get away from the books and take a break from work.

For higher ed leadership teams, it is the exact opposite: Summer is the busy season, when major renovations, repairs and maintenance projects are completed while on-campus populations are lower.

But ensuring the success of summer construction projects begins well before the first crew shows up. Here are five critical steps to take when preparing for summer construction projects on campus:

Step 1: Ensure connection to the institutional mission

Planning a summer construction project is in some respects like planning a summer vacation: The first step is to pick a destination and make sure it matches with what you like to do.

To establish measurable standards of success, institution leaders will need to define desired outcomes, project benchmarks and clear objectives which align with the institutional vision. Once the desired end has been communicated to stakeholders, leaders can build a timeframe for the project to ensure it meets a clear definition of success.

Step 2: Prioritize projects

Data-driven decisions ensure buy-in from all stakeholders and keep the focus on the institution’s vision. A holistic baseline can provide a clear roadmap to not just to where investments are most needed but more importantly to where they will be most impactful.

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An effective and efficient baseline of all campus buildings should make use of as much existing data as possible and use technology to fill in the gaps. By creating a comprehensive baseline, prioritized with the institutional mission in mind, limited resources can be focused to where they will have the maximum impact on student success.

Having accurate and up-to-date data will help to compare and weigh the facilities’ needs against each other and decide what projects must be finished now, what projects must get started and what can wait.

Step 3: Plan for the unknown

Due to strict time constraints, unpredictable events pose a significant threat to the success of summer projects. Building a list of potential risks and creating contingency plans can help projects stay on track and take challenges in stride.

It’s not uncommon to uncover unseen facilities problems in the midst of a project.

To meet time constraints, equipment and materials with longer lead times need to be ordered far in advance and with as little red tape as possible. The best plans must include flexibility for the inevitability of the unpredictable and finding a way to hedge risk where possible increases the chances of success.

Step 4: Review your scope of work for clarity

A scope of work should be clear and leave no room for interpretation. Ambiguity will potentially lead to delays, change orders and cost fluctuations.

When writing a scope of work, it’s important to sweat the small stuff and consider every single task. It is better to over-explain than to leave open the possibility of a misunderstanding which could lead to a decision between a cost-overrun or a project continuing into the fall.

A clear scope of work reduces disputes and miscommunications, resulting in projects that move seamlessly along the condensed summer timeline and are ready for the return of students in the fall.

Step 5: Consider alternative construction project delivery

Traditional, project delivery methods, like design-bid-build, are necessary for large, complex projects, such as new dorms or stadiums. But for those routine repairs, renovations or straightforward new construction projects, there can be a disproportionate procurement burden relative to job size and scope.

Another challenge to university construction is access to qualified contractors, especially in the busy summer months when skilled laborers are in high demand. Notable institutions have turned to alternative construction project delivery to meet the challenges of summer construction and take advantage of this peak construction season.

The George Washington University, a private research institution in the heart of the nation’s capital, recognized the condition of the highly trafficked Mitchell Hall corridors needed urgent upgrades.

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With less than 45 days before the new fall semester began, and the hall fully occupied by summer program students, GW turned to job order contracting (JOC) for this time sensitive project. JOC allows for the completion of multiple projects through a competitively-bid indefinite delivery indefinite quantity (IDIQ) contract.

This single-solicitation process enables projects to start faster and creates long-term, collaborative partnerships between project owners and awarded contractors, resulting in higher quality work. The awarded contractor was able to complete the renovations to all nine floors, which included replacing fluorescent lighting with energy-efficient LED lighting, upgrading interior finishes and unexpected mold remediation, in just 35 days.

Preparing for summer success

The success of summer construction initiatives is dependent on proper planning, and rigorous scheduling and forecasting to appropriately manage deadline challenges.

With a clear goal, prioritized but flexible plans and the right project delivery method, institutions will be well prepared to succeed in improving their learning environments this summer.

Adam Gogolski is product manager at Gordian.

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