Once projected space needs exceed existing capacity, every educational institution contemplates expansion. A feasibility study usually is required in order to understand and evaluate the available options. Proactive expansion for other reasons is always possible, especially in private institutions. Depending upon the speed of growth and change, three primary strategies are evaluated: renovation, addition and new independent construction. It is not unusual for plans to include all three.
Regardless, each strategy is synchronized with the ongoing academic needs. Planning this “phased construction” well is critical to the final cost, ultimate success and overall satisfaction with the project.
Demolition and construction on a site where classes are in session are, at best, a distraction; at worst, they also can be dangerous. The worst-case scenario occurs when renovation must happen within an occupied building. A key ingredient for evaluating the potential of such a renovation is whether swing space can be occupied during construction. The amount and location of swing space has a direct impact on how long the distraction must be endured and who must endure it. If temporary space must be leased, such costs become part of the overall new construction cost.
If a school addition is required, a common strategy is to build that first — minimizing or avoiding the expense of leasing. Then the new space can be used as swing space when renovating the remainder of the building. The key constraint involving swing space is maintaining circulation between functioning facility spaces while avoiding active construction. When a gymnasium or auditorium is involved, offsite temporary facilities might require busing. Even when only new building is contemplated, site construction adjacent to a functioning school needs careful coordination. One activity can impede the other.
For school projects, optimal construction scheduling is defined by key academic dates — the first and last day of an academic term and vacations — when school is not in session. Even so, there are preferred vacation times: it is preferable to do construction work during daylight hours, during a season when weather is mild, and when seasonally busy crews of key trades are available for the tasks at hand at normal wages. As a result, at least part of every new school project schedule is planned to happen in the summer.
The construction funding availability is the first consideration of construction scheduling. For public and private educational projects alike, funding for construction often is delayed. A downturn or upturn in the economy affects private funding. The legislative schedule at the local or state level may have the same effect on public funds. A project may have to begin at the wrong time for all of the right reasons.
Another important variable is the weather. Construction must respect the climate. Water-based materials — paints, adhesives, mortar and concrete — can freeze in cold weather. Roofing must not be installed until rain-drenched surfaces are dry. Insulation and interior finishes also can be ruined by leaking water. Snow and sleet on the highway delays deliveries. Each region of the country has its own organic limitations.
Wet construction also has an impact on the shoes of the students and the maintenance expenses that result. Once a building is enclosed, weather is still an important variable, but less likely to result in serious delays.
Underground, and therefore unknown, conditions offer another source of surprises. Historic building sites can be delayed for months while archeologists retrieve uncovered artifacts. Hazardous materials may be discovered beneath the surface and require careful, expensive disposal. Unexpected underground water or other unusual soil conditions can cause delays and even the complete redesign of building foundations.
Interior renovation projects typically have more predictable schedules. A recently constructed building may have products and materials that are still readily available. The sizes and product numbers may be researched. Pure renovation projects, however, may have another negative scheduling ingredient: the age of the existing campus or building.
With time, when construction documents deteriorate and are lost, destructive research may be required to understand how an older building is built. Concealed asbestos may be present, along with lead paint. Foundations settle. Floors cease to be level; doorways may no longer be square. Even the dimensions of lumber used in construction have changed with time. Therefore, even when products are delivered on time, they may not fit. Accessibility problems, fire codes and structural requirements have evolved with time. The younger the building, the less guesswork is involved in the preconstruction scheduling and cost estimating. The older the building, the more risk of error.