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Effective Management of Your Next Construction Project

April 29, 2019 by Jody Andres and Sean Duncanson in School Business Affairs

This article originally appeared in the April 2019 School Business Affairs magazine and is reposted with permission of the Association of School Business Officials International (ASBO). The text herein does not necessarily represent the views or policies of ASBO International, and use of this imprint does not imply any endorsement or recognition by ASBO International and its officers or affiliates. 






Whether you're planning new construction on your campus or renovating a school, you will certainly face challenges. Safely caring for students, staff, and faculty while maintaining an effective learning environment and executing a construction project is a sizable feat.

Any facility project involves disruptions, such as lack of access to areas, loud noises, odd smells, and water and power interruptions. They can have negative effects on the education process and add stress for everyone affected. 

With proper preparation, communication, planning, and mind-sets, districts can meet all their educational goals and complete a successful school construction project.

Planning and Coordination
Coordinating construction without disrupting the daily activities of students, faculty, and staff requires precision and teamwork. The construction manager and the school or school district team must carefully choreograph the construction schedule.

At the beginning of the project, thoughtful consideration of how the construction may affect students' learning should provide ample time for necessary changes to agendas, procedures, and processes. Proper planning and consistent, detailed communication will greatly reduce the negative effects on the school's occupants.

For example, if an addition is planned near a common area, such as a cafeteria, preliminary actions will be required to minimize dust, noise, and construction worker intrusion into that area, especially at specific times. Open construction areas must be cordoned off and secured to protect people from any potential health issues or harm.

Being mindful of significant upcoming events or special school holidays can provide opportunities for better outcomes. Informing the construction team of the chance for crews to work on the property during professional development days, for example, when fewer people are on site, is helpful.

Here are three keys to help with planning:

  • Select staging areas that minimize conflict between construction and educational activities. Creative thinking can keep the project on schedule with minimal disruption to classroom activities, as well as extracurricular events.
  • Clearly identify and communicate which areas of the school campus will be affected and when the various construction activities will take place. Review construction details with faculty and staff and clearly highlight all areas that might be troublesome or hazardous. 
  • Schedule regular, frequent meetings between the construction manager and the liaison for the school and other key stakeholders to evaluate progress, discuss changes, and look ahead. These meetings improve synchronization and allow for continuous process improvement.

Fostering Flexibility
Fostering a flexible mind-set is key to any construction project. The foundation for that mind-set is a relationship built on trust. Staff members and students are far more likely to be flexible if they've been informed openly and honestly.

When a school principal believed that the staff needed to adopt a more amenable attitude toward the challenges the construction project presented, he spent substantial time conveying project details and reminding them that the project had a definitive completion date. He reinforced the point that they outcome would result in a significantly better environment for the students, parents, staff, and community. He consistently messaged that short-term inconveniences were well worth the long-term benefits that everyone would realize.

Despite extensive planning, any unforeseen issues need to be addressed immediately, but calmly. In one instance, a contractor hit a waterline that resulted in closing the bathrooms in one wing of the school for the day. In such cases, it's important to quickly engage the key parties for both the school and the construction project, creating a coordinated effort and clearly communicating with everyone affected. The disruption can then be minimized.

Fostering Goodwill
Developing a communication plan is also pivotal to a construction project's success. Identifying the frequency of communication and who the appropriate parties are for various types of communication from both the construction side and the school side is crucial.

Recently, a school liaison took the construction communication pieces, tweaked them for her purposes, and used them to communicate with the staff via daily emails and weekly updates at staff meetings. Additionally, she provided parents with a monthly update on the status of the project and a look ahead.

Involving students in the project is a bonus. In one setting, elementary school students were invited to play for an hour in the newly constructed gym. The students were given sidewalk chalk so they could write their names and draw on the concrete that would be under the yet-to-be-laid gym floor. This opportunity gave the students a positive story to share while making a wonderful memory.

Creating goodwill can be as simple as construction workers retrieving balls and toys that go over fences into the construction site. One foreman, for example, picked up a couple of baseballs that had sailed into the construction zone and took them back to the team. The coach invited him to stay and take some swings in the batting cage. He relived his glory days and threw a few pitches too. That occasion created a rapport with the students and coaching staff, fostering goodwill.

Safety First
The safety of students, staff, faculty, visitors, and construction personnel is always the number one goal. The construction manager and the appropriate education leaders should develop a safety management plan that addresses such issues as the following:

Construction access zones. Ensure that construction zones are fenced and secured and that only trained construction personnel are permitted to enter.
Emergency exit routes. Depending on the scope of the project, designate an emergency exit route through the construction access zone.
Site-specific safety program. Identify in advance how each project task will be performed safely to head off potential problems and issues.
Safety coordination meetings. Schedule weekly meetings for the construction management staff, contractors, and school representatives to review current construction tasks as well as the upcoming schedule and to identify process issues that may affect safety. 
Safety designees. Ensure that a construction management staff member is designated for the overall safety of the jobsite. He or she should be available at all hours to address safety concerns and questions with a designated person from the school. They should be available to each other at all times, along with designated backups for each.
Emergency services. Coordinate with police and fire officials to temporarily revise emergency response plans during various phases of the project. Make sure to prioritize this process.

A crucial element of the safety management plan is having the school's representatives and the project manager address specific items, such as common traffic patterns, pedestrian crossing areas, and campus and facility entry points. It is often beneficial to notify neighbors of the project, providing them with the opportunity to plan so that the construction does not negatively affect their access points, deliveries, or business routines.

Identify traffic concerns, such as other nearby schools or manufacturing shift work, that should be considered when planning traffic disruptions, detours, or delivery of large quantities of materials. Again, communication and planning are key. 

Staying Focused
Construction and renovation projects are exciting, but they are certain to create some challenges. Construction personnel and education administrators must work together to ensure that noise, dust, disruptions, and distractions to important daily activities are minimized and that the environment remains safe for everyone.

By focusing on the importance of planning, coordination, communication, flexibility, and safety, you'll be well on your way to completing a successful project. 

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