There are several ways to minimize the impact of construction activities in a facility that is in-use. One of the easiest is to schedule construction work to take place “second-shift” or off hours from when the building occupants are present. This method keeps construction and building activities separate, which is great, however, it also requires significant amounts of cleanup after construction in order to ensure that the space is sufficiently ready for the occupants to return in the morning. This can limit the amount or type of work that can be completed at one time, and can also significantly impact the contractor’s efficiency.
Another technique that can be used, is to create “swing-space” for the building occupants. This is a space where employees can be temporarily relocated while another area of the building is separated off for construction activities. The important considerations in this option are the impact of the temporary move on building activities, the ability to relocate all needed equipment, etc. and adequate separation (both physical and audible) between the separate activities. A swing space is particularly useful when constructing an entirely new space. Due to the fact that it is completely separate from the existing building and will not interrupt regular business activities.
A technique that was often used many years ago, particularly when working on schools, was the use of temporary facilities, such as temporary classrooms, so the existing building could be emptied out. This method is not really an option in our current world as the cost of such units is prohibitive, the cost to insure such units is extremely high, and the in-ability to ensure occupant safety (observability, safe-environment, fire safety) all make this an unattractive option. Storage containers to temporarily house furniture, equipment, etc. can be a viable option, but using temporary units for occupancy can be problematic.
Teitsch-Kent-Fay Architects, P.C. have constructed upper story additions to several of our educational clients by using a “bridge-over” concept of construction. In this method, the existing single story wing of the building is “over-built” using a structural system that spans over the top of the existing wing. The building must be closed while the major structural trusses are craned into place, however, once the superstructure is completed, the entire upper level can be completed separate from the activities that are going on below. As the work on the addition is completed, new work can be connected to the existing systems with minimal interruptions. This method has proved very effective, and allows the existing building to function with minimal interruptions.
With all of these options, the most important factor must alway be to insure that everyone on site, both the building occupants, and the construction personnel are kept safe and secure. Stairs and corridors, lighting and ventilation systems, and emergency equipment must always be maintained in working order throughout the construction period, to ensure everyone’s safety. Careful coordination, and sometimes temporary “detours” are needed, but the life safety issues must always be of prime importance.
While emptying a facility to allow for construction is the simplest and easiest option, at least for the architect and contractor, many times that is not an option, so a little creativity must be employed. Open communication between all parties, and a willingness to sometimes “think outside the box” can allow for construction to take place successfully while still permitting the building occupants to operate during the process. When done properly, safety is maintained, confusion is kept to a minimum, and everyone is able to get the work done.