How to Plan a Building Addition/Renovation for Your College or University

Have you ever wondered what it takes to plan successful building/renovation projects for your college or university? Are you unsure about how long it may take to finish one of these projects?

 

 
Every January we get a call from a higher education client that goes something like, “We need a new (insert building type here) open for students this fall!  Can it be done?” Que the theme song from Mission Impossible….  The good news is yes, in some cases we can do it and we have many successful projects that have been done on a tight timline. The not-quite-as-good news is that the speed required by a compressed schedule can restrict many aspects of the design and construction process. Decision making will need to be rapid paced, and it is likely that money will be spent on overtime labor and rush shipping that could have been saved or put to better use with a more manageable project schedule.
 
 
For a building project, time is an asset every bit as valuable as money. With more time, you are able to involve more project stakeholders in the design process, which means better decision making. With more time, you will be able to phase construction to not interfere with the schedules of your students, faculty, and staff. With more time, you will save money on construction because more contractors will be able to fit the project into their schedules and bid the work. Time really is valuable!

 

 
To assist you in planning time for your project, here are examples of the schedules for 3 prototypical projects:
#1 Summer Renovation, up to +/-$2,000,000.
#2 Stand-alone Building or Addition/Renovation, up to +/-$10,000,000.
#3 Stand-alone Building or Addition/Renovation, up to +/-$30,000,000.
 
#1 Summer Renovation, up to +/-$2,000,000.  11 months, start to finish.
  • Design phase = September through December.
    • Keys to success: Fall break offers the ideal opportunity for the design team to access the building while it is empty.
  • Bid & Award phase = January, February.
    • Keys to success: You are ahead of the pack bidding this work, so you cast a bigger net of available contractors looking to lock in their summer workload. Pre-bid meetings are easy to accommodate over Christmas break when buildings are empty.
  • Long Lead Items = March, April.
    • Keys to success: Many long lead items require field measurements.  Spring Break offers opportunities for contractors to get into the building without disrupting users. Items with 8-12 week lead times need to be ordered by mid-March to arrive on site in June.
  • Construction = May, June, July.
    • Keys to success: We require the contractor to provide a milestone schedule and we scrutinize it at every project meeting.  Falling even one week behind in a 8-10 week schedule is difficult to make up. 
#2 Stand-alone Building or Addition/Renovation, up to +/-$10,000,000.  24 months, start to finish.
 
  • Design phase = July through February (8 months)
    • Keys to success: Beginning design work over the summer allows for surveys, soil borings, and (if necessary) even hazardous material investigations and selective exploratory demolition to occur without disruption to the campus. This duration allows for 2-3 months in each phase of design, includes estimates of probable construction costs at each phase, and provides for owner review & approval between each phase.
  • Bid & Award phase = March, April.
    • Keys to success: If awarding the contract for construction depends on a board motion/approval, it will be essential to plan the bid phase accordingly.
  • Long Lead Items = May
    • Keys to success: The time required in the early construction phase for site work and foundations provides sufficient lead time for most products, but structural steel or structural precast will likely still be on the critical path.
  • Construction = June through June the following year (13 months)
    • Keys to success: Construction begins after students & faculty have (mostly) left campus for the summer, minimizing disruptions yet still providing enough time to enclose the building before winter sets in. Interior work can continue over the winter and there will still be enough time for exterior masonry and hardscaping/landscaping in spring/summer. A project of this size will take more time for owner furnishing and move-in so it is wise to target a June completion.
#3 Stand-alone Building or Addition/Renovation, up to +/-$30,000,000.  48 months, start to finish.
  • Design phase = June through November the following year (18 months)
    • Keys to success: This is a very large project likely requiring input from many groups of stakeholders on campus. This project probably impacts several buildings on campus possibly even requiring demolition to make the space available for the new construction. Each phase of design will take several months, includes estimates of probable construction costs at each phase and provides for owner review & approval between each phase.
  • Bid & Award phase = December, January
    • Keys to success: If awarding the contract for construction depends on a board motion/approval, it will be essential to plan the bid phase accordingly.
  • Long Lead Items = February
    • Keys to success: The time required in the early construction phase for site work and foundations provides sufficient lead time for most products, but structural steel or structural precast will likely still be on the critical path.
  • Construction = March through May two years later. (27 months)
    • Keys to success:  A project of this size is likely to be constructed in phases. In an addition/renovation scenario, for example, the first year may be focused on building the addition so users can move in, vacating the rest of the building for renovation in the second year. Most of the final summer should be set aside for owner furnishing and move-in.
Every project is unique, and occurrences like the COVID-19 situation continue to produce ripple effects throughout the construction industry. Consider these project schedules “rules of thumb” for preliminary planning purposes. Feel free to call us for a review.

Tim Terman, RA
Principal, Registered Architect