During Construction It’s Decision Time, Again and Again

The design is complete, the shovels are in the ground. How are you planning to spend the next 12 to 18 months, while your new building takes shape?

If you thought you were going to be doing a lot of standing around, watching it take shape, then my guess is that this is your first building project. You, the owner, have a lot with which to occupy yourself between now and the Grand Opening.

Literally thousands of big and little decisions have yet to be made. Some decisions can’t be made in the near future, so your designer will have included infrastructure to allow you to leave them until well after the building is up and running. For example, flexible space may have been designed into your arena to allow for a future full-scale concessions operation. Or, to offer another common example, your rec center might be wired to allow for a variety of communications and security systems to be installed, as during design the decision has not yet been made about how extensive and what type of systems are needed. If something like the security system is excluded from the contract with your architect, you’ll be working with the security firm you hired, and then your architect, on everything related to the system’s selection, purchase and installation timing — which could take place after the building is completed.

Related: What You Bring to the Facility Planning Process

Then there are the decisions that didn’t need to be made prior to groundbreaking, but need to be finalized before the foundation and superstructure are done. Some might be within the terms of your building contract — you selected ceramic tile, but what color and in what pattern? — and some, such as those related to furniture and fabrics, might be made in consultation with a specialist such as an interior designer. You might have signed off on a wayfinding and signage plan for the entire facility, but you’re waiting on the ultimate OK until you know the names of all the building donors. You can only wait so long — various products and materials have to be ordered (or special ordered) well in advance, and the last thing you’d want is for your late call on color schemes to hold up the rest of the building. The sheer number and variety of decisions can really add up — and something seemingly trivial that you keep pushing to the back of the list can suddenly result in real delays and real cost.

Long before the building is completed, you’ll need to have decided about the move-in — what’s coming with you and what isn’t, who will be boxing up offices and equipment, and who will be contracted to do the actual moving. Some equipment — are you planning on moving and reusing the four-year-old arena scoreboard? — is more complicated to dismantle and move, and requires the involvement of specialists. Finding the right one can be time consuming — but picking the wrong one can be very costly.

And these are just some of the things we can expect you’ll be dealing with. No matter how well a building is designed, unknowns are going to creep in during construction. If your job is like every other construction project, you will be called upon to make decisions in consultation with your design and construction team, which hopefully will agree in each case on the wisest course of action.

This all amounts to a second full-time job for most owners. You hardly hear anyone complain about it, of course — but most will tell you that the exhilaration of opening a new building is coupled with basic relief at having reached the finish line. While you will undoubtedly call your new facility a labor of love, going into the construction phase with eyes open to the very real responsibilities and decisions still to be made is the best way to maintain your budget and your sanity, and gives you the best chance to enjoy the process.

More from Ralph Agostinelli

Ralph J Agostinelli, PE (ragostinelli@stanmar-inc.com) is senior project manager at Stanmar Inc., a Wayland, Mass., design-build firm specializing in athletic and recreation facilities.

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