"Occupied Campus" Projects Require Special Care

By Ricky Touchstone | September 28, 2010

Most organizations, whether they are hospitals, colleges, private schools, retirement homes, or churches, want their construction projects to take place with the least amount of disruption possible. Making that happen, however, can be a daunting challenge for a commercial contractor. Allowing the client to conduct "business as usual" during a major construction project requires careful coordination that allows access while at the same time thoroughly protecting the safety of everyone involved.

Over its 85-year history, Frank L. Blum Construction Company has become something of a specialist in "occupied campus" projects. These projects have included:

  • Complex renovations at Wake Forest University Baptist Medical Center. Patient rooms continued to be occupied and surgery proceeded in treatment rooms just yards away from active construction areas.
  • Student center at High Point University. The cafeteria and bookstore remained open throughout construction.
  • Private schools and retirement homes. Young students and residents continued with their routines while Blum personnel answered their questions and ensured their safety.

Keys To Successful Occupied Campus Projects

The commonality to the success of all these projects is thorough pre-planning; persistent, ongoing, clear communication with the client; and constant attention to details. There is no substitute for thorough planning and daily dialogue that addresses the clients’ concerns and prevents potential problems. All Blum field supervisors, employees and subcontractors know that this element of their job is every bit as important as the actual construction work.

Wake Forest University Baptist Medical Center

During construction projects in health care facilities, additional issues such as controlling construction dust prove challenging. In some cases, patients may be in rooms on the other side of a temporary construction wall while work is continuing. At no other facility is it as imperative that safety rules be strictly followed and that electrical, sprinkler and HVAC systems be shut off only for the minimum amount of time necessary. At Wake Forest University Baptist Medical Center, Blum’s work on site is preceded by extensive planning meetings in order to phase the job properly to reduce disruption. Close communication with nurses and physicians is necessary to determine when patients must be moved to different areas.

Student Center – High Point University

At High Point University, Blum’s assignment was to construct a 45,000-square-foot addition to the student center during the college’s 2007 academic year. The university requested that the center stay open, even though students would have to pass through the job site in order to check their mail, browse in the bookstore or eat in the cafeteria. The job required knocking down an existing brick exterior wall and removing brick pavers on what had been an outdoor terrace area.

To ensure the students’ safety, Blum constructed a plywood tunnel to allow access through the site and walled off the rest of the site with chain link fence panels. But as you might expect, college students were in the habit of taking their normal route through campus. Fortunately the university’s graphics department assisted Blum with signage that, in addition to the careful attention of Blum workers on site, kept the problem contained and prevented any injuries.

Summit School

During Blum’s numerous projects over the years at Summit School in Winston-Salem, teachers and students have had to routinely walk around job sites in order to get from building to building or to the parking lot and playground. Blum has erected temporary fencing and poured temporary sidewalks that directed the children away from the job sites and worked with the school to educate teachers and parents about the new pathways.

Of course, the students’ curiosity must and should be accommodated as well. Blum superintendents have conducted tours for families, faculty and staff, and donors; visited classrooms; and answered, in writing, questions written on pieces of paper stuck into the fence! Blum’s newest project at the school involves the inclusion of "green" building techniques, and the staff is actively working with the teachers to take full advantage of this opportunity to teach students about construction that has a minimal impact on the environment.

Cross Road Retirement Community

Satisfying curiosity is also a major factor in projects at retirement homes, where construction work can be a source of daily intrigue for residents who feel an ownership of their surroundings. Blum is always aware that during these projects the staff is in the residents’ home. With this unique population, great care and vigilance on behalf of all workers at the site is also necessary to ensure that residents stay within the safe zones.

Blum also seeks to minimize disruption in the living areas as much as possible. At Cross Road Retirement Community in Asheboro, N.C., Blum minimized workers’ foot traffic through the facility by building a temporary stair/scaffolding structure with a plank walkway across the roof of the main building. This allowed workers to climb up, over and down to the job site in an enclosed inner courtyard without walking through the hallways most of the time.

Using this structure to get construction materials into the courtyard was a major challenge at times. The management of Cross Road appreciated the fact that Blum went above and beyond the usual practices to make sure residents were disturbed as little as possible.

Working on an occupied campus is not simple, and these measures must be taken while still adhering to an often rigorous construction schedule. Blum clients say they appreciate the extensive planning and the way that Blum employees look out for them.

Any inconveniences Blum experiences in the short run are far outweighed by the long-term rewards, with many satisfied customers asking the company to return again and again.

Ricky Touchstone is a partner and senior project manager with Frank L. Blum Construction Co. in Winston-Salem, North Carolina.