by Thomas Dionne
From retrofitting labs with the latest innovative classroom technologies to installing residence hall features to improve the quality of the student experience, summertime is renovation season at most institutions of higher education, as well as many independent schools. In education, it is common to tackle maintenance and facilities upgrade projects when the bulk of students and faculty are away. Completing your summer campus renovation project(s) – “annuals” in higher ed or “summer slammers” in construction – on tight timelines requires careful attention.
First, experience and preconstruction planning are even more crucial than usual. Any construction outfit can bid on a project, but fewer have adequate experience with the fast-tracking process required to reach completion within your educational institution’s eight to 12-week summer window. Having completed projects for Boston College, Tufts University, Governor’s Academy, Brooks School, and others, we cannot understate the importance of finding a construction manager with a track record of meeting unforgiving deadlines.
No matter what happens, the students are coming back, so the success of your project may depend on preconstruction phase issues like estimating, procurement, and permitting. This is why good estimators tend to ask a lot of clarifying questions.
For more than 30 years, Paul Scarnici has served as a construction project manager at Boston College (BC), where Connolly Brothers is currently working on the new Higgins Laboratory and a new athlete’s recovery lounge at the Conti Forum. Scarnici advises academic institutions to “plan up front as far ahead as you possibly can.” He says that means getting summer projects for the next calendar year on the internal docket early in the fall semester. This allows time for VPs and/or committees to review proposals so the school can approach a construction manager with an approved plan at the turn of the new year.
Next, pay extra attention to long-lead items. Supply chain issues prohibiting required materials from arriving on-site in a timely fashion is a surefire way to stop a project from reaching completion on schedule. However, if the design team shares drawings with the construction manager as early as possible, this can often be avoided.
Also, clear communication becomes paramount with a condensed schedule, as there is generally no room for error on procedural issues such as project timeline, working days and hours, safety precautions, and on-site cleanup procedures. An experienced superintendent is critical in ensuring that the project’s fast-track pace does not result in any sacrifice to quality, and that daily realities align with agreed-upon conditions and expectations.
Scarnici has enlisted Connolly Brothers on projects for 15 years, from science building laboratories to run-of-the-mill dormitory work, because, he says, “I appreciate Connolly’s good work, their good people, and the knowledge that I won’t have to worry about it.”
That lack of stress may be the greatest measure of “annual” or “summer slammer” success. Following these guidelines can help your college, university, or school avoid construction panic and embrace the peace of mind that comes with a smooth summer renovation project.
Thomas Dionne is vice president of preconstruction services at Connolly Brothers, Inc.