Facility Planning

Facility Planning: Check and Recheck in School Construction

Minimize headaches for construction success with accurate documents.

Recent seminars and webinars have focused on the problems created when contractors receive poor-quality drawings and specifications from architects and engineers for school construction. These sessions offer contractors strategies for dealing with defective plans and specifications. When the contract documents, drawings and specifications for school construction are accurate and without significant errors or omissions, the project is more likely to be on time and within budget. Contract documents riddled with errors, conflicts or omissions lead to major problems during the bidding, construction phase and occupancy.

Contract documents provide a backbone for a successful school construction building project. The specifications (or project manual) include the bidding requirements, contract conditions and the specifications that define the qualitative requirements for products, materials and workmanship. The construction drawings or working drawings (blueprints) are used during construction. Drawings quantify materials, and illustrate location and relationship.

Unfortunately, all projects have their share of problems even when "accurate and complete" documents are produced—human errors and mistakes happen. However, poorly drafted, ambiguous or conflicting plans and specifications create problems for all parties—architects, engineers, contractors, subcontractors and education institutions. In their desire to win a bid, architects may promise impossible schedules; in haste to meet an impossible schedule, they produce a bad set of documents. Quality of personnel, their attitudes and abilities affect the outcome. Sometimes schools, construction managers and design-builders put unrealistic expectations on architects regarding the time needed to produce design, accurate construction drawings and specifications.

The art of developing a set of construction drawings has progressed. What once was contained in a few sheets of drawings has evolved into a complex, concise set of drawings attempting to illustrate every detail concerning a construction project.

For example, the set of "blueprints" for a 1911 school usually contained six to 10 drawing sheets showing a site, floor plans, foundation, structural plans, elevations and a few details. By 1961, a large senior high school for 2,400 students required 116 sheets of drawings and six months to produce the construction drawings.

In 2011, one high school for 750 students required 232 sheets of drawings using CAD (computer-aided design) and BIM (building integrated management) software. This software purportedly reduces the number of conflicts between architectural, structural, mechanical and electrical systems, and shortens the time to produce and correct documents. However, the project schedule must include sufficient time to check the documents. Having enough time to compile and enter information accurately is essential to work with BIM. Three months was allotted to produce the construction drawings.

BIM software enables a design team, architects, CAD technicians, specifications, interior designers and engineers to work in two and three dimensions to correct and enhance a project design. Design revisions while preparing the construction document can be updated automatically. An "interference check" is available to attempt to resolve design and system conflicts on the drawings. FTP websites can be used to share information.

Even with computer-aided design and construction detailing, preparing a one-of-a-kind building takes time. Performing a document check hastily may create problems during the bidding and construction phases. A team needs time to check, cross-check and coordinate all aspects of the drawings including architectural, structural, civil, landscape architecture, interior design, mechanical, electrical, technology and security of the drawings.

Rydeen, FAIA, is an architect/facility planning specialist and former president of Armstrong, Torseth, Skold & Rydeen, Inc. (ATS&R), Minneapolis.

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James E. Rydeen

Rydeen, FAIA, is an architect/facility planning specialist and former president of Armstrong, Torseth, Skold & Rydeen, Inc. (ATS&R), Minneapolis.
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