By Jackie Jennings
Published in the September 2008 issue of Today’s Facility Manager
Most successful office renovations are the result of smart planning in the early stages. For facility managers (fms), a proactive planning approach can be very helpful in side stepping the headaches that might otherwise plague a renovation or expansion project. Frequently, fms are overlooked, despite the critical nature of their involvement in the project—especially as the primary representative of the organization. Therefore, they should establish a strong relationship with the project team at the very start. Fms must be comfortable contacting members of the team at any time or asking for information during job meetings. This will help keep them apprised of all project plans, challenges, and milestones. At job meetings and on the construction site, the fm must be able to make important decisions, help resolve unanswered questions, and hold team members accountable for their respective responsibilities.
The following five steps could help the renovation process flow more smoothly for fms charged with the task of handling a renovation or new construction project.
Identify Goals. Clarifying certain questions or areas of concern up front helps to solidify specific project goals. These include:
1. What factors are driving the renovation (i.e., updating infrastructure systems, installing new technology, upgrading finishes, changing space function, enhancing aesthetic appeal)?
2. What issues will affect the schedule of the project? Will work take place while the building is occupied, or will it involve phased moves?
3. What is the budget? Does it include all available funds, and is there any room for contingencies?
4. What outside entities (i.e., regulatory agencies) will the renovation team need to deal with during the course of the project?
5. What are the quality expectations for various aspects of the build out? Can the budget realistically support those expectations?
Creating An Effective Team. One of the most crucial elements for a seamless renovation is having the right project assembled for the job. Establishing partnerships early, with all the required disciplines, builds a strong bond between people who will work well together and develop a sense of ownership for the project.
First, fms must find the right architectural or interior design team. If an established relationship with a design group is already in place, the project is one step ahead. If not, it’s important for fms to do some early research by soliciting proposals and conducting interviews to narrow down the list of prospects.
Another important step is bringing aboard a qualified, reputable general contractor (GC). Many project teams don’t bring in a GC to the process until after construction documents have already been completed. However, the contractor’s role should ideally begin at the concept stage, continue at least halfway through design development, and pick up again when the job is bid.
Involving the GC early on will ensure accurate budgeting and maximize cost efficiency. Drawing from extensive field experience, contractors can give invaluable input on the project’s preliminary budget. They can also validate the constructability of early concepts and perform value engineering before a design is finalized or construction begins.
When soliciting proposals for both the designer and GC, fms should look for firms with experience in the specific type (or types) of renovation work that the project will entail. During the interview process, the fm can ask for specifics on budgets, schedules, and change orders for the contractors’ past renovation projects. It is essential for the fm as customer to obtain references from other former (or current) customers and check them carefully.
Conduct Site Homework. To eliminate problems that frequently occur during renovations, the selected project team should conduct some upfront research on the building in which work will take place. Although this research will require some additional spending, it is far less expensive when compared with the cost of dealing with site problems later. Further, site homework can be budgeted into the project if conducted as early as possible.
One helpful step for fms is to conduct a thorough evaluation of existing conditions. The evaluation should address the age and operating condition of all mechanical and electrical systems; condition of the building and its ability to support any renovations; quality of existing utilities; accuracy of past site evaluations; and any historic elements. Without a preliminary site evaluation, the renovation could come to a halt and incur costly adds and changes if unforeseen conditions are revealed during construction (i.e., presence of asbestos, lead, or toxic mold caused by water intrusion).
Another step might be for the team to involve the local building inspector early in the process (rather than waiting until construction is underway). The team should request that all zoning, fire, seismic, and ADA requirements be inspected thoroughly to make sure the building meets current codes. By addressing any of these issues from the beginning, the inspector essentially can become an advocate who helps implement the project.
If a regulatory entity (i.e., historic review committee, environmental agency) is overseeing the project in some capacity, that agency should be involved early on as well. The goal is to form a cohesive, team oriented relationship with all involved parties before construction work ever begins.
Develop A Realistic Schedule. A serious misconception exists-renovation work on an existing building should be quicker than new construction. This is not always the case. The key to an effective project schedule is to keep it realistic.
A schedule should be developed after careful evaluation of all issues (i.e., material lead times and potential employee disruption) that drive the timing of a specific project. First, schedulers should start with the date the renovated space must be ready; then work backward. Planners must allocate sufficient time for each project phase, including planning services, design, and construction.
The goal of the project schedule is to keep the renovation flowing smoothly without sacrificing quality of construction work or going over budget. Delays to the schedule resulting from unforeseen existing conditions have the single largest impact on the budget. All subsequent project issues should be addressed and resolved as they arise, so any obstacles that could compromise the schedule are dealt with immediately.
Prepare A Contingency Budget. Even the most carefully planned project can be hit with a few surprises. To handle any unforeseen setbacks, fms should set aside a contingency budget of approximately 10%. This fund should be developed above and beyond the allocated budget for the project. That way, any unexpected costs can be handled while staying within the original parameters.
Taking a proactive approach when planning a renovation helps fms minimize the pitfalls that can sneak up during the construction process. While it requires some initial consideration and legwork, proactive planning greatly improves the likelihood of a high quality, cost efficient project that will make everyone proud.
Jennings is president of Johnson & Jennings General Contracting, a San Diego, CA-based firm specializing in building improvements and commercial construction.