Keeping a Facility Running During Expansion or Renovation
Completing a renovation or expansion to an existing facility while its operations remain ongoing is a difficult job. But by mixing creative choreography with ground rules, goals and expectations, owners and construction firms can team up make these hard jobs a little easier.
It’s a common conundrum for owners and facility managers: We need to expand or renovate our space, but we can’t shut down operations.
It often seems impossible to accomplish both sides of that coin, and leaders can quickly find themselves in a state of paralysis by analysis. But it can be done. Success on these types of jobs lies at the intersection of communication and choreography.
The Case for Keeping Things Moving
Before we dig into the details of how to keep a facility running during an expansion or renovation, it’s important to discuss why it’s a good idea to complete a construction project this way.
First, an owner may have no other choice. For organizations who lack the luxury of a construction-ready greenfield site, completing a project while work remains ongoing might be the only option.
Second, staying in operation means you can keep projects moving. You won’t be totally free of interruptions, but you can at least keep the wheels turning. That continuity benefits those you serve, be they students, patients or customers.
Finally, staying in operation means staying in position to accomplish your organization’s goals. Schools keep educating kids. Hospitals keep healing the sick and injured. Factories keep turning out widgets. It’s an attractive option for for-profit organizations who must keep generating revenue during a time of significant expense. The same is true for non-profit or educational entities who want to stay focused on their core mission no matter what.
Coexistence During Construction
A detailed plan with strict rules must be put in place to ensure construction work can carry on with minimal interference with regular business. There are tradeoffs here. Some plans make more sense than others depending on the site and circumstances, but no plan will be perfect.
If an owner has portable equipment and enough space to shuffle people and their work around, renovation or expansion can proceed in phases during normal business hours provided work areas are safely sealed off. A benefit of doing it this way is that it’s easier for contractors to supply workers during normal business hours. Plus, an owner can maximize his or her time by keeping eyes on construction and normal operations within a day’s work. However, playing musical chairs with your employees and equipment can be frustrating and may impact productivity.
If people and equipment cannot be moved, or the normal activities inside a building are sensitive enough to preclude daytime construction, overnight and weekend work is necessary. The benefit to users is that normal business can occur without disruption aside from some areas being sealed off. It also makes it easier for construction crews since they can do their work without having to dodge employees or patrons. However, it’s harder —and sometimes more expensive— to supply an adequate workforce on these jobs.
Coexistence takes many forms, but flexibility and constant communication are paramount. It’s a two-way street, and it works best when ground rules and thoughtful plans are made from the start and followed to a ‘T.’
Case Study: Mooresville High School
The renovation and expansion of Mooresville High School in suburban Indianapolis shows these principles in practice.
Originally built for 400 students in the 1950s, the school was showing its age. Hallways were too narrow, posing a safety hazard. Classrooms were too small and outdated. The student body had ballooned. A recent referendum to fund a new school had failed. The only option was to renovate and expand the existing site.
Work included widening the school’s hallways, expanding classrooms, streamlining its foot traffic patterns by constructing a new concourse and adding new administrative space for a growing student body. It all had to be done on a strict budget and firm deadline. Crews implemented a hybrid strategy of working quickly during weekends and breaks as well as progressing with less disruptive work in phases while class was in session.
Questions to Ask Your Contractor
Choosing a construction company to manage expansions or renovations while a facility stays running is not to be taken lightly. All companies can promise the world, but are they really up to the task? Ask firms on your short list these questions:
- Have you done jobs like this before? Show me examples.
- How deep is your network of subcontractors in this region? Can you put together a reliable workforce to meet our scheduling needs?
- Our work can be unpredictable and our customers’ demands must be met. Can you change work plans on short notice and still get the job done on time?
- We may need to expand or renovate again in the future. What can you do during this job to make the next one seamless?
These jobs are hard, there’s no getting around it. But the right construction partner combines a knack for planning with flexibility and accessibility to ensure the job gets done the way you want it done.