Whitepaper: 08.12.2012

Building Before the Bell Rings

How to do a major school renovation on the fast track
by Justin Kelton, McCarthy Vice President, Education Services

Imagine the challenge of renovating a 138,000-square-foot high school — stripping the 25-year-old landmark of everything from electrical wiring and HVAC to carpeting and paint. Then replace it all, modernizing the classrooms to meet a new generation of aspiring leaders. And most important, pick up the last nail and rinse the final paintbrush before school starts in the fall — starting and finishing nearly a $10 million renovation project in a single summer.

This was the challenge facing Barry Goldwater High School (BGHS) in Phoenix, Arizona. “This is among the tightest projects that we’ve ever done,” said Joe Holcombe, executive director of school services for Valley Schools Management Group. “And we finished early. That takes a lot of stress off the teachers and students. It wasn’t a home run — it was a grand slam. The value is irreplaceable.”

Not only was the work completed during the summer months — in just 56 days — the project was finished five days ahead of schedule. And the best practices employed to meet this aggressive schedule — without cutting corners on quality, safety or cost — can be a guide for any owner, whether in the field of education or not.

Why did such a massive project need to be completed so quickly? The key was to avoid disrupting students and teachers. “Barry Goldwater High School is an active campus, and we were concerned about construction interrupting the educational flow,” Holcombe said. “So we had to do all of the work over the summer. There was no room for surprises.”

When the timeframe is this tight, it raises the bar for everyone involved. “If you’re building in the summer, you’re already behind schedule until you’re done,” Holcombe said. “McCarthy attacked the schedule with double shifts, so there was never any need to play catch-up.” But double shifts alone weren’t the answer; in fact, the greatest influence on project schedule started long before the first demolition worker stepped foot on the BGHS campus.

Detailed planning, use of technology tools and self-performance all played critical roles in the project’s ultimate success.

The Key to Speed
How did McCarthy complete a renovation of this size and scope in just 56 days? And what can owners in any industry learn from it? The key was a combination of preconstruction planning and strategic self-performance. It gave BGHS flexibility that wouldn’t be possible otherwise: the ability to build with quality, cost effectiveness and confidence within an aggressive timeframe. McCarthy was involved with BGHS on preconstruction from day one. It was critical to ensuring everyone knew exactly what the owner wanted. The key result of preconstruction was the creation of detailed sequence and work plans that allowed the team to clearly understand and eliminate bottlenecks in the work and to identify downtime where contractors could speed up their activities.

In addition, based on this thorough pre-planning, the most appropriate level of self-performance to maximize control over schedule, quality and cost was mapped out. This involved choosing to self-perform those functions that would have the greatest strategic impact on the final outcome of the project. As a result, more than 30% of the project was self-performed, including plumbing, wet HVAC and the demolition of existing structures.

More than 50 employees were assembled to self-perform the demolition of 138,000 square feet in six days and nights. Not only did the demolition come in under budget, there were no recordable injuries. In fact, there weren’t any over the course of the entire project, with a peak workforce of more than 200 daily. Everyone went home safe every day. It’s a cliché to say, but safety is no accident. Working safe means planning ahead and following best practices. For example, safety meetings were conducted before every single shift. One tradesman commented, “The McCarthy team has gone above and beyond to make sure that every employee and subcontractor stays motivated, safe and productive.”

Technology and Communication Drive Productivity
To help meet BGHS’ single-summer schedule, several technology innovations were used, such as BIM (Building Information Modeling) systems to locate conflicts with existing underground utilities. This approach was eventually expanded to create a 3D model of all of the existing utilities on campus.

Every team member also used tablets to view the as-built drawings — electronically managing signoffs for above-ceiling and in-wall inspections and completing pour cards in the field. The tablets were a critical tool for conveying real-time information.

Another communications need was to ensure a smooth transition between every day and night shift. Communication on such a fast-paced project was managed by creating a ‘Sign-Off Central’ drawing that was updated hourly. This empowered day and night shifts to know which areas could be closed with sheet rock, insulation or ceiling grid. This simple but powerful idea minimized rework and helped keep an already tight schedule on time.

Working Fast, with Quality
Not only was the project finished early, “The work was of great quality,” Holcombe said. “It was the finest prep job of painting that I’ve ever seen. This truly was a qualification-based selection of contractors.” There are other examples of quality construction as well, such as installing more than 100 exhaust fans/outside air intake vents and 75 windows in the existing building. That’s challenging enough given the timeframe, but the work was also performed during monsoon season — without a single leak.

Part of this success can be attributed to a ‘true builder’ approach: taking responsibility for how your work impacts the entire BGHS campus, including those areas not directly involved with the renovation. According to the owner, “McCarthy seems to take the approach that every issue is theirs to help solve, even when it may be a design, code, budget/financing or owner issue. The team approach is not just a slogan.”

Working Fast, On Budget
There is a big difference between budgeting for major renovation versus new construction. Because of McCarthy’s experience with preconstruction and self-performance, the team knew how to evaluate the site in advance, so there wouldn’t be any surprises later that might jeopardize schedule, quality or cost.

“We’ve worked in the past with companies that don’t self-perform,” Holcombe said. “So all they give us are historical numbers for budgeting. McCarthy gave us actual numbers, based on experience. Because they self-perform, there are no guesses about contingency amounts. And that makes budgeting easier.”

Whatever project an owner is faced with, be it a school, hospital, entertainment venue or civil project, time is often of the essence. Success is built on early builder involvement, thorough preplanning and close communication with all team members. While the challenge may look daunting, with the right team at the table the seemingly impossible becomes possible.

About the Author
Justin Kelton is Vice President, Operations for Education Services in the Southwest Division of McCarthy Building Companies, Inc. With more than 20 years of construction experience, Kelton oversees operations on all McCarthy education projects in Arizona and New Mexico currently totaling a $150 million dollar program. These efforts include leading preconstruction, providing input for constructability and value analysis reviews as well as logistics and construction scheduling. During construction he supports the team by ensuring adequate home office resources are made available. Justin is also present at the site regularly to ensure the project is progressing efficiently and to determine the need for additional support services. Kelton holds a Civil and Environmental Certificate from Vermont Technical College and a Welding Certificate from New Hampshire College.

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