Balancing Act

PHASED OCCUPANCYBenefits and drawbacks come with phased occupancy in projects.  

By Doug Copp

If you wait until after groundbreaking to plan for phased occupancy, it may be too late. Finalizing phased occupancy opportunities during preconstruction is the best way to limit additional costs, delays in the schedule and avoid conflicts. The project team, consisting of the owner, designers, contractor, subcontractors and management operators, must collaborate early and often to plan for each phase to ensure the best outcome for everyone involved. 

While every mid-rise, mixed-use, multifamily project is unique, most owners wish to move into their new space as soon as possible by accelerating construction completion with phased occupancy. Although this process adds complexity for contractors, it meets the owners’ goal to allow commercial and retail spaces to operate as independent entities before the residential spaces are complete. This also allows owners early leasing opportunities for apartment spaces as they meet completion. 

However, with benefits also come drawbacks. Working in a construction site where tenants are living or operating a business brings additional considerations for the team. When deciding on the date of partial occupancy, logistics, number and location of rooms, and amenity areas, be sure to also focus your preconstruction planning on:

1. Establishing the phased occupancy schedule – Since phased occupancy adds complexity, it’s best to establish a master schedule as well as one dedicated solely to phased occupancy. The schedule must be very detailed and should take into consideration that each task affects the next. If one item isn’t finished on time it can ultimately cause a domino effect, delaying the rest of the project or forcing the team to make up lost time by adding additional manpower or overtime. 

Phased occupancy also can extend the project completion date by 10 percent to 15 percent. But, with proper planning of the work sequence and supervision of manpower, phased occupancy will be a success. Keep momentum and use a colored plan diagram as an illustration of the phased occupancy to show separate construction and public zones, life safety exiting and work sequence. For mid-rise apartments, it is recommended that tenant occupancy be phased from the bottom up so the public does not pass through construction areas.

2. Calculating added costs  – Phased occupancy can impact the cost of construction due to duplication of temporary work, such as multiple cleanings, protection of floor finishes, partitions, doors and signage. Other cost and sequencing considerations include reprogramming elevators and building management systems, as well as testing/balancing HVAC systems. Additional labor costs have the most impact. They include added supervision to help keep up with normal construction flow, premium time for off-hours work, added shut downs and lost productivity due to multiple trades working in confined areas together. 

Another cost to consider is additional inspections. Each phase will require an inspection before it is deemed ready for occupancy. Planning for phased occupancy during preconstruction ensures the lowest cost impact overall, which is typically a 1 percent to 3 percent premium depending on the complexity of the phasing and the size of the project.

3. Discussing life and safety systems – To occupy any portion of the project, the entire building’s life and safety systems must be tested, inspected and operational 24/7. This includes elevators, fire alarms, fire protection and security systems. Temporary systems may need to be installed in completed areas to obtain a temporary occupancy permit from the authority. 

After the construction of the entire building is complete, these systems must be reprogrammed. Designers of the project need to consider the temporary requirements of the life and safety systems and their tie-in to the base building system in their design documents. Not doing so will result in additional costs and delays to the project schedule.

4. Getting buy-in from the project team – Collaboration within the project team is a must for successful phased-occupancy projects. Obtaining buy-in from your project team during preconstruction allows the contractor to communicate the phasing requirements to the subcontractors, who are then able to consider where to allocate manpower and supervision throughout the project. Also, the contractor will be better positioned to communicate and coordinate with authorities who will be performing inspections and permitting throughout each completed phase. 

5. Additional considerations:

• To ensure tenant comfort, a hydronic heating and cooling system must be designed to operate under partial occupancy loads, with zoned valving and controls and repeated testing and balancing.

• Tenants need to be educated that construction will continue to generate noise, dust, odors, intermittent utility shut downs and inconvenience to parking, stairs and elevators.

• Temporary fencing and signage needs to be installed in restricted areas to ensure there is distinct separation between tenant access and the construction zone. 

• Daily coordination with the operations manager is required to stay abreast of construction activities affecting tenants.

Phased occupancy has a high degree of success if properly planned for during the preconstruction phase of the project. Collectively, the project team and local authorities must buy-in to the plan. Properly considering cost, schedule and design impacts during preconstruction is paramount to realizing a win-win outcome for all involved.  

Doug Copp is the director of preconstruction services for Kinsley Construction. He first joined Kinsley in 2001 with extensive experience and relationships in the Maryland marketplace. His degrees include a Bachelor of Science in Nuclear Engineering from Penn State University and a Bachelor of Arts with a Physics Concentration from Lock Haven University. His certifications include Green Advantage Commercial and ASHE Health Care Construction.

 

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