Every school has a list of renovations, upgrades and repairs that need attention, but many are too distracting and disruptive to carry out during the school year. Often, the best time to address these nagging construction projects is during the summer when students are on break and the campus is quieter. Although these "summer slammers" often are smaller-scale renovations or additions, they still require extensive planning. In fact, they may require even more pre-planning to ensure that they can be accomplished within the limited time that students are off campus.

Setting priorities, determining a budget, finding the funds, assembling a team, defining the scope, analyzing constructability and buying materials take time and should not be crammed into a few short weeks. In order to ensure proper execution, schools should begin the process as early as possible.

Why Start So Early?

Every spring, some education institutions scramble to throw together summer projects quickly. Waiting until the last minute often creates unnecessary stress, and may result in less than stellar results. With limited time, architects and construction managers are pressured to cram months of work into just weeks — leading to errors and omissions. Starting early on project planning has several advantages:

One step ahead. By planning summer construction programs well in advance, schools can get a jumpstart on other institutions in the area. You'll have the luxury of selecting the right architect, construction manager and other team members without competing with other projects occurring during the summer. Many administrators are surprised to learn how long the lead time is for things such as elevators, HVAC units and mechanical equipment. Starting early means being ready when the construction period starts.

Setting up for the future. When assessing needs, a school or university may find that a planned project will encompass more than one summer. By taking a broader view of these projects, administrators can prioritize them into manageable pieces and present them for funding together, so they won't have to go back every year for approvals.

Institutions can decide whether they want to hire one architect and one construction manager for all phases or put a new project segment out to the market every year. Each has its advantages.

Keeping the same core team can foster a great sense of collaboration and teamwork — assuming that the architect and construction manager work well together. These design and construction experts can advise on the most cost-efficient sequence for tackling project components. Creating this kind of working atmosphere can greatly improve the quality and efficiency of future projects. Choosing the team once and retaining its services for repeat phases also will save schools the time and money it takes to request proposals, interview candidates, check references and make offers.

However, if after the first year, an institution finds it is dissatisfied with a particular design team, it may want to choose new members for the next summer's phase of work. The contract terms and conditions should provide flexibility to change the architect, construction manager, or both if an institution is displeased with their performance.

Preparation begets quality. Preconstruction — the phase when the team analyzes drawings to ensure constructability, performs value engineering and finalizes the budget — is a critical time for projects of all sizes. Although summer slammers typically are smaller projects with shorter schedules, they still may present complex challenges. With more time to prepare and study the unique elements of a program, a school and its team will have a better outing because everyone will have the time to work together to ensure that what's been built on paper can be realized in the field.

The construction process is likely to be more enjoyable and less stressful when a design team is involved during preconstruction. Preconstruction almost always uncovers potential problems, which the team can work out in advance. The alternative means that a team uncovers trouble after construction has already begun, which may severely compromise the schedule and the budget.

Getting Started for Summer 2012

When a school is focused, organized and thoroughly prepared, the chances of a successful outcome and experience grow exponentially.

Six essential steps to take between now and this spring will get a school's 2012 Summer Slammer project off to a good start:

Start early. Allow ample time to plan for a summer slammer project; schools will need time to order long lead items, resolve potential problems with the drawings, and enable the team to foster an effective working relationship.

Set the budget. Smaller projects aren't necessarily inexpensive; setting the budget will ensure that schools don't plan for a program that is much more expensive than they can afford.

Determine scope. Prioritize the wish list and split it into financially manageable phases; institutions may find that their needs will span two or three summers in a row.

Rethink hard bids. Schools may think that hard bids yield better prices, but if they wait for architectural drawings to be 100 percent complete, it may be too late to order long-lead items; the best value is derived from bringing a construction manager on board early to provide expertise and capitalize on subcontractor relationships.

Assemble a team. Develop and send out requests for proposals (RFPs) to architecture and construction-management firms; narrow the choices; conduct interviews; and choose a team based on factors such as experience, financial stability and chemistry. Get them working together early to identify challenges and develop solutions.

Take advantage of the preconstruction phase. This is the time to work out the kinks in a project; collaborate with the architect and CM to ensure the scope is thorough, the drawings are accurate, and the budget is realistic; advanced planning means you can hit the ground running as soon as school is out.

Being Prepared

Planning ahead is never a bad thing. Waiting until the last minute and scrambling to execute important projects can lead to disaster. Whether large or small, short or long, all construction programs present unique challenges. Preconstruction is the time to solve potential problems. Without it, a school may still have a successful project, but it's simply not worth the risk.

Jensen is president/group manager for Erland, Burlington, Mass., which has performed consecutive summer slammers for Westfield State University. (See photo). He can be reached at rjensen@erland.com.

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