Updated: Jul 12
Construction is inherently full of surprises. There are so many unpredictable factors such as inclement weather and hidden costs. Then there are unexpected circumstances such as the pandemic and the related material and labor shortages.
As a full-service construction company, we have had the experience of working on both brand-new, ground-breaking properties such as the award-winning CES Regional Center for the Arts and the Mansfield Community Center, Mansfield, CT, and renovating and restoring abandoned properties such as the Hollander Foundation Center in Hartford, CT. Some of the projects we have completed were completely empty. Other renovation projects were fully occupied, such as the Villa Victoria (pictured below).
Whether the project is new construction or a renovation project, planning for the expected and unexpected is part of the standard protocol. For new construction, the first step in the decision to build a commercial building is to locate the right piece of property. Empty lots can be difficult to locate and prepping the property for construction can be time-consuming, replete with hidden costs and unforeseen challenges. But they also can be full of promises.
When it comes to renovation, working in a completely empty building is ideal. Generally, the city or township offers incentives to purchase properties as a way of revitalizing the area since vacant properties seized by the local government require time, money, and attention. But often it is not realistic, logistically or financially, to vacate the occupants out of the building. In this situation, project management is more complex with an occupied renovation. Occupant health and safety must be prioritized, and the noise level must be minimized.
Some of our most successful projects are a combination of both new construction and occupied renovation. The award-winning Kirtland Commons, Deep River, CT, an occupied affordable housing complex for income-eligible seniors, is a perfect example (pictured below).
The plan was to add 18 units and an underground parking lot and renovate an occupied 28,794 square feet of the existing building which was fully occupied. It was a phased project with the new construction scheduled to be completed prior to the renovations. The renovations included the replacement of all windows, entry doors, and carpeting, as well as replacing the vinyl siding with Hardie-plank siding and painting the corridors.
Here was the challenge: How could we run a successful phased, combination new construction/renovation project with minimal disruption to the lives and the safety of the current occupants?
The Checklist of Effective Strategies
After 40 plus years in the construction business, LaRosa Groups has compiled a checklist of effective strategies that can promote the safety of the occupants while ensuring the financial success and timely completion of an occupied construction project:
✅ Communication: Communication is critical for any project. We always have regularly scheduled meetings with the owners, the subs, and the local officials. But for occupied phased renovation projects like Kirkland Commons, we held monthly meetings with the actual residents since they were both curious and concerned. We shared the schedule, discussed safety issues, and let them know what we would be working on which day.
✅ Site Plan Identification: It’s important for everyone to know the timing of the project and the phasing order. Outlining the phases and timetable of the project are the key to making sure all parties involved in the project agree on the phases and then communicate the phases to the building occupants. This process minimizes occupant pedestrian and vehicular traffic to the site area and is instrumental in controlling the logistics. It also allows for effective communication with the vendors, so they know exactly where to deliver supplies on the site plan.
✅ Security: Even in a vacant building there needs to be security protocols in place to prevent vagrancy and theft. “In an occupied building, the need for security is triple fold. We not only have to keep the building and the workers safe but also the tenants,” explained Kyma Ganzer, Preconstruction Manager, LaRosa Groups.
In an occupied building, security takes on many levels. It means securing the property, making sure windows are closed and the buildings are locked and installing spotlighting. It means erecting a construction fence around the unoccupied site and prompting workers to identify individuals who do not belong on the property. It sometimes involves hiring staff as well to make sure occupants avoid specific areas, both during working hours and after.
✅ Budget Management Process: Setting up the budget management process in an organized fashion is key for any project whether it is new construction, renovation occupied or non-occupied. But it becomes particularly important in a phased construction project to mitigate potential cost overruns. Let’s use Rockview Phase II as an example. As a 24-million-dollar project, it would be easy to overspend during Phase I as it might seem there was a lot of money to spare for unforeseen circumstances. By setting up a budget management process, the dollars are specifically earmarked which avoids overspending.
✅ Cleanup: During construction, hazardous materials, debris, waste, and trash accumulate on a daily basis. While a rough clean is standard after the workers have completed a specific part of the project, in an occupied building, the need to be vigilant about cleanup on a daily basis becomes compulsory. Tools need to be put away to prevent occupational and occupant injuries and it is important to be cognizant of also protecting the assets of the tenants.
Ongoing training is helpful to ingrain the safety culture into the minds of all employees. “In an occupied building, we have weekly meetings and training sessions to talk about safety. Depending on the scope of work, we will have someone on the ground to be the eyes and ears, strictly for safety reasons,” explained Kyma.
We can’t control the weather or necessarily plan for hidden costs. The pandemic was unimaginably unavoidable, and we are still experiencing material and labor shortages.
But safety training, communication, site plan identification, budget management, and scheduled clean up can prevent some avoidable surprises. And hiring the right team to oversee your next new construction or renovation project can make a big difference.
Learn more about the LaRosa Building Group and how we can get your next project off the ground (pun intended). Schedule your FREE consultation today!