Planning a School Renovation Project

Renovations projects may look easy if the folks who normally use the building are gone. School renovation projects are usually not that way. More often, design and construction have to account for ongoing occupancy and school operations during the course of construction, even if some part of the work can be completed during summer breaks. Planning for ongoing occupancy and school operations usually means the following become high priority matters:

  • Sufficient classroom space must be maintained for school use. This may lead to temporary conversion of non-classroom space (“swing space”) or under-utilized classroom space while permanent classroom space is renovated or added. Or it may necessitate leasing portable (“modular”) classroom space. On some projects where enrollment allows, it may be possible to “squeeze” into fewer classrooms for successive phases of renovations, phase-by-phase until the project is complete.
  • Vehicle and pedestrian access must be maintained from the site entrance to the building. That includes school bus access and loading/unloading areas, delivery access, emergency vehicle access, and parking. You need to plan for temporary access and parking wherever permanent access and parking will be disturbed or displaced by construction activity.
  • Building utility services must be maintained to occupied areas. Heating plant changeovers must be scheduled to avoid the heating season to the extent possible (Changing boilers in a school can take up to 6 months or nearly the entire duration of the non-heating season in a cold winter climate area; if the project cannot be phased to accommodate a changeover during the non-heating season, one or more temporary boilers may be needed as part of the project.) It may be necessary to complete a new electrical service and back-feed old circuits in occupied areas until they can be replaced in a later phase.
  • Adequate exits must be maintained from the occupied areas of the building. For some projects or project phases, temporary exits may be needed in one or more locations to accommodate the combination of construction and occupancy.
  • Adequate toilets must be planned for every phase of a project, making new toilets or other existing toilets available where some toilets are taken off-line for renovation or replacement.
  • Most schools serve lunch, so project plans must consider how food service will be handled when a kitchen or cafeteria space is off-line for renovations. A temporary dining area may be needed, or it may be necessary to have food prepared off-site and delivered to the school during that phase of the project.
  • Temporary Library space may need to be planned.
  • Physical education space and schedules must be considered. While it may be possible to reserve outdoor spaces for warmer seasons, the construction schedule should account for the need for indoor gym space when weather demands it.
  • Requirements must be established for control of construction-generated dust, fumes, and noise in order to minimize adverse impacts on school occupancy and operations.

The considerations above (and others) factor into the decision to renovate or “build new”. Given the complications of phasing and related construction logistics, the cost of a renovation project can approach the cost of new construction, even if the renovation saves much of the building infrastructure. The tipping point – deciding to “build new” instead of renovate – is different for different communities and different circumstances, but once it is clear that the cost of renovation will be more than half of the cost of new construction, the pros and cons of renovation deserve closer scrutiny. Will the benefits of renovation pay off in the long run, or will the remaining infrastructure or other remaining features be a hindrance to effective use of the facility going forward? After considering these questions, some school organizations have opted for new construction on the same site, maintaining use of the old building until it can be demolished after the new building is occupied.

Posted in Design, Project Administration, Project Management

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