By Garrick Palay
Schools that are properly planned, designed, and constructed play a crucial role in promoting the safety and well-being of students, staff, and visitors. Especially today, schools should be not only secure yet feel as accessible as possible but should also have an appealing aesthetic in order to provide a welcoming atmosphere.
No matter the education level that facilities serve —from kindergarten and high school to higher and specialty education, there are many facets of internal and external systems that education buildings are comprised of including plumbing, electrical, mechanical and security to name a few. These are essential to ensuring a safe environment and longevity.
Here are five key ways to ensure education facility construction projects are completed safely and efficiently.
1. Prepare The Site Effectively
Benjamin Franklin once said, “An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.” This philosophy certainly holds true when it comes to planning any type of school construction. Before anyone steps foot in the building, everything needs to be planned out from start to finish. During the project planning phase, the construction team should work with key stakeholders to develop and implement a site logistics plan that can be easily communicated to staff and students in order to keep the public safe and minimize interruptions. That means addressing the proper material storage and plan for changes in traffic patterns as well as setting up fencing to control debris and managing noise control. At the very beginning of the project, field leaders should identify all the necessary tools and workflows that will enable the project to continue moving smoothly as well as identify any potential issues that could become stumbling blocks later.
2. Improve Efficiency With Effective Technology
Potential obstacles can be detected and resolved before they occur through a growing number of technologies that improve construction processes. For example, Building Information Modeling (BIM) is a process that not only provides a realistic preview of the finished project before construction takes place, but also allows for adjustments to occur before they are identified in the field. Another example of technology is laser scanning, which creates a “reality capture” that helps with education facility construction projects, especially those that involve renovation. Point-cloud laser scans quickly capture the conditions of a building or piece of equipment and integrate seamlessly with 3D models. Augmented reality (AR) and virtual reality (VR) allow construction teams to visualize real-time data and models of classrooms and school buildings in an immersive environment, allowing faster decision making and a true view of the finished product.
3. Consider Time Sensitivities
As school years are often hectic, there are, in reality, only a few available months to complete major projects, which can create some challenges. In most instances, construction projects on education facilities need to be managed during the summer months, while most teachers and students are away. However, even during summer vacation, there are usually still classes, camps, and sports practices taking place. As educators, staff, coaches, students, and athletes juggle these activities, it is crucial that construction crews do not distract them or put them in the face of any sort of danger. To accomplish this, construction supervisors work with school administrators to create a feasible schedule that results in fewer disruptions.
For example, construction teams will often work with facilities to implement alternative bus routes, drop-off locations, and no-entry zones. Identification badges may be worn by crew members and arrangements should be made ahead of time to ensure that corridors, stairs, and elevators under construction are used at different times to keep end users safe.
Lean processes should be used to incorporate the logistics of an occupied site and still deliver on key milestones to keep projects on time and within budget.
4. Make Safety First Priority
Every education facility is unique and has its own set of operational standards construction teams need to be aware of. But construction in any school setting requires extra care when it comes to planning for everyone’s safety and the team’s responsible use of public funds.
Students and staff must be protected from exposure to hazardous contaminants that can be found in older buildings, such as PCBs (polychlorinated biphenyls), lead, and asbestos. Additionally, temporary partitions and barricades are installed to help eliminate foul odors and soften excessive noise. Workers need to be correctly trained to recognize threats if demolition activities reveal unforeseen contaminations.
5. Clearly Communicate With All Parties
While communication is vital in any industry, the stakes are even higher in construction. Even seemingly minor mistakes can not only cause project delays and increased costs but can also result in damage to property and equipment and increase safety risks for the crew and bystanders. According to the Project Management Institute (PMI), poor communication is the primary reason one-third of projects fail, whereas more than two-thirds (71%) of projects using effective communications are finished on time.
Part of this solution involves forming strong relationships between the construction supervisors and facility managers, creating a sense of trust and peace of mind. As a first step, project managers and construction teams should gather all upfront work and align all scheduled tasks. In the meantime, the field leader should coordinate the team’s day-to-day schedules and work in unison with project managers to successfully deliver the project in collaboration with the design team and the school’s facilities manager.
Flexibility is key to avoiding negative impacts. This is why clearly communicating logistic plans to schools should always be at the top of the construction team’s to-do list. The logistics plan should outline what school board members, staff, and students can anticipate during construction, including which areas will be affected, temporary closures and detours, and project timing.
When the proper steps are taken to ensure that all appropriate project stakeholders are fully aware of what is happening, schedules are considered, and safety is at the forefront, education facility construction project leaders can expect a smooth process from start to finish, resulting in a happy and healthy learning environment.
Palay is an education project manager for Riley Construction headquartered in Kenosha Wisconsin. He has over six years of construction management experience and is responsible for the Planning, execution, and successful delivery of education construction projects.