Summer started early for university campuses across the country. Many closed their campuses well in advance of the end of the semester in efforts to protect students and faculty from the COVID-19 pandemic.
If your campus had plans to undertake a construction project after the school year wrapped up, the early closure may present a unique opportunity. Many states continue to require non-essential operations to close, but in a majority of cases, construction projects are considered essential and allowed to continue (for an up-to-date map click here). While qualifying as a non-exempt function does not mean construction projects can proceed as usual, the advancement of remote work, technology, social distancing, and the ability to re-sequence work on projects and projects themselves present benefits to re-evaluating the status of on-campus construction projects to take advantage of this unusual situation.
Work on Infrastructure Projects
Roads, sidewalks, parking garages and other infrastructure projects are often a huge hassle to organize and manage on a college campus while classes are in session. With the COVID-19 pandemic closing all but a few campuses, this is an optimal time for universities to complete infrastructure projects.
Worker safety remains top of mind for any project owner during the COVID-19 pandemic, but these kinds of projects may be better suited for the pandemic than others. For starters, they are typically outdoor projects, which can more easily allow workers to keep the required six feet of distance between one another that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommend to slow the spread of the COVID-19 virus. Infrastructure projects also greatly benefit from summer weather, which generally comes with fewer days affected by severe or non-construction-friendly conditions. All of these factors may allow infrastructure project work to be completed faster during this time, and, often cheaper, since there are fewer logistical issues such as redirecting traffic.
Usually project administration and paperwork falls to the wayside as a project speeds ahead. Because deadlines approach quickly and work moves fast, many change orders aren’t negotiated between the owner and the contractor until the project is nearly complete. All campus project owners, even those unable to complete construction work, should take advantage of this downtime to work with contractors to resolve change orders and disputes now, so that all project paperwork is current when the project picks up again. Project owners should also take this opportunity to review insurance policies and contract agreements to understand how delays will affect claims and project costs. (For more, see our earlier article, How to Prepare for COVID-19 Construction Delays.)
Pull Forward Summer Projects
Projects such as painting, plumbing, electrical work, and other small building updates might be another good project to accelerate in the short-term. They are disruptive when school is in session, so they are typically reserved for summer time breaks. They also require smaller crews, which would help meet the safety standards for workers during the COVID-19 pandemic. By re-sequencing the summer project portfolio to take advantage of an empty campus now, when restrictions are lifted, construction teams can focus time and manpower on bigger projects that cannot be completed at this time.
Re-sequencing Projects and Project Work
Re-sequencing project work can be viewed in two ways. The first is to re-sequence overall projects, and the second is to re-sequence parts of the project. For both scenarios, there are many factors to consider. To comply with new safety and social distancing guidelines, aspects of construction work may need to change to prevent too many people from working together in a small confined space. Organizing who can show up and when will be a key role for management to ensure worker safety.
Supply chain interruptions are another huge hurdle that may affect project timelines. Tile and elevators manufactured in Italy, manufacturing from China, local, industrial manufacturers transitioning from making construction equipment to healthcare equipment (respirators, etc.) are all possible events that could result in supply chain delays. Shuffling project components so that work can still be done while waiting for materials allows the project critical path to move forward without greatly affecting the final deadline.
Putting Worker Safety First
Part of this re-evaluation involves an ethical component as well. While there is an understanding that the university wants to complete projects, it is vital to recognize that their contractors are putting themselves and others at risk for work to happen. Understanding that the health and safety of workers comes first when planning projects will greatly factor into the planning process. Adjusting work shifts and crews to adhere to social distancing guidelines, letting inspections happen later in the day when fewer people are on site, and offering cleaning products and protective gear on-site are just a few ways to enhance worker health and safety. Using technology to replace in-person visits with drones or cameras is another alternative to on-site visits. This technology can be used to get projects off the ground for on-site bidding walk-through meetings, and once bids are submitted, for bid opening meetings. All of these small changes will increase worker safety while meeting the needs of the university.
Re-evaluating the status of on-campus construction projects to account for supply chain delays, worker safety and to utilize technology are a just few ways project owners can take advantage of effects of COVID-19. For more information, please contact us.
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Mark McCarthy is a Managing Director in the national Risk & Advisory Services practice for CBIZ, Inc., specializing in construction cost review and consulting. He can be reached at 617.761.0627 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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