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Working in Tight Spaces: Communication and scheduling are keys to a harmonious project site

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Every construction project comes with its own set of challenges, such as time and budget demands. However, when working on a project located in a tight urban site, there are additional challenges such as site access, material deliveries and storage, scaffolding and scheduling.


Deliveries and Storage

One of the main problems that subcontractors run into are the availability of laydown areas for materials, whether it be location in relationship to the job site, or just the size available, notes Ryan Grouws, project manager/safety director at CHG Building Systems Inc., Renton, Wash. "An important coordination item is material deliveries and how you schedule them, whether it's on a just-in-time basis, so materials are arriving as you need them because of a lack of laydown space, or if you have the luxury of having a little bit of a boneyard that you can stockpile some more pieces," he adds. "A lot of time when you're on a tight urban site, you don't have the luxury of having a large storage yard on-site and careful planning must occur in advance."

When ordering materials, James C. Tuschall, president of Tuschall Engineering Co. Inc., Burr Ridge, Ill., says it's important to bring in only what you need and have it crated in phases so the material doesn't have to be moved around. This will also help with having a sequential order for receiving the material and installing it. "A lot of times we will have the fabricator hold the material and release it a week at a time, or whatever the duration is that what we take we install so that we don't have all the material on-site," he explains. "Sometimes this will incur additional freight, additional unloading and handling, but those are all built into the job when you're aware of it. Within our bid, we usually indicate what type of scaffolding we will be using, and that they will need to provide us access, or they will incur more costs."

metal construction news, working in tight urban spaces, godfrey chicago, all-american exterior solutionsMike Underwood, division manager/specialty metal at All-American Exterior Solutions, Lake Zurich, Ill., explains that when working on the The Godfrey hotel in Chicago there were 12 different deliveries over three months, bringing only the panels that were needed for two weeks at a time. Unlike projects in a more open suburban location where subcontractors can bring in all of the materials at once, "There was a lot of coordination and schedules as far as deliveries and the materials coming all the way from Texas," he says. Since the deliveries took two days to get to Chicago, there was a lot of back and forth logistically with the suppliers.

Once the panels were delivered, Underwood says they would be stored where they were working before being installed on the wall. Every few days, "We would have to shift our stage over, and then we'd open up a new section, and then the new panels would come, and then we'd install that, then shift the stage, then bring in new panels," he adds. "It was real tight, and we were basically right at the property line with the stages."



For trade subcontractors, the project manager is usually in charge of the scheduling, and working on a tight urban site requires more logistical planning and preparation than that of a suburban site with lots of space. "It takes a lot more planning and preparation," according to Underwood. When you go ahead and plan a whole schedule, something inevitably changes. "Something gets pushed up or moved back, or weather hits, or the trades before you aren't done with their tasks," he adds. "It's a lot of juggling and communication."

For the Godfrey project, Underwood says he was dealing with the truckers and the suppliers, and then the site. Since there are multiple trades trying to schedule deliveries all at the same time, it is sometimes necessary to receive deliveries during off hours, either early in the morning or later in the evening. To keep everything organized, Underwood says there was a dry-erase board with a calendar on-site for scheduling. Once a time and day was selected for a delivery, he would tell the trucker when he needed to arrive. If a delivery doesn't arrive on time, Underwood explains that it may be necessary to reschedule the remaining delivery for a later day and time.

Scheduling is also essential because permits are required to do the work. For example, Tuschall says many of the permits they get are for 30 days and if they go over they need to buy another month of permits. "Scheduling is usually based on the need of the project; if it's ready then they want the panels on-site," he adds. "The general contractor schedule can be a moving target, but we aim to hit it on a time frame so that we don't incur extra costs, such as additional permit fees, additional rentals or sidewalk protection enclosures, etc."


king street amtrak station, metal construction news, working in tight urban spaces, chg building systems inc. Scaffolding

Other challenges include how installers approach scaffolding. On the 17-story Godfrey project, Underwood says they had to schedule time with the skip (material hoist) or power crane so they could get their materials up to the section of the building where it was to be installed. Additionally, "We had to drop down swing stages from the side of the building and had to close down the sidewalks so no pedestrians could get through there," he explains.

"Instead of a boom lift we'd have to use a swing stage to hang off of, and we'd have to put different protection up in place as needed, including at times having to put sidewalk protection in place," Tuschall says. On the recent Shops at North Bridge project in Chicago, Tuschall says the project required lane closures on Rush Street and Grand Avenue, in addition to sidewalk protection and a swing stage. Additionally, on a neighboring hotel they were required to put window-darkening material so workers couldn't see inside hotel rooms.

Tuschall notes that they need to be sure to follow city ordinances and rules as to where scaffolding is left at the end of the day or overnight, which sometimes differs with the different types of scaffolding.


king street amtrak station, metal construction news, working in tight urban spaces, chg building systems inc. Safety

Safety is a key issue on tight urban sites, whether working on a busy street, near railroad tracks or in close proximity to other buildings, says Grouws. "You may have a multistory building next to your property, you may have active railroads, there's just a lot of congestion on these types of sites," he explains. "We address these issues, or at least identify them at bid time, and the ability to identify those at bid time is critical to ensure a successful project."

While working on a maintenance building for the Amtrak Cascade Line near the King Street Station in Seattle, Grouws explains that there were active railroad tracks within 15 feet on either side, as well as Safeco Field, the Mariners baseball stadium located on the north end of the project site. Additionally, the access from the south end was off a busy arterial street, so steel deliveries from the metal building manufacturer were coordinated on a just-in-time basis that allowed the steel to be unloaded and placed where it needed to go since there wasn't a laydown area they could utilize.

Being safe also means protecting the nearby properties when working on a project. Tuschall recommends getting on good graces with any neighboring properties by communicating early and explaining what the project entails.


fourth presbyterian church chicago, metal construction news, working in tight urban spaces, tuschall engineeringOpen Communication

When working on a site in a tight location, scheduling is essential to the success of the project and it is important to keep open the lines of communication. Things on-site are constantly changing and daily communication will help keep everyone in the loop as to what's going on and help ensure safe and efficient site activities.

The project's general contractor is the ultimate traffic supervisor and can use a variety of tools to make sure a project runs smoothly and on time. For example, on a smaller site, a dry-erase board with a calendar was used to schedule deliveries. Other projects utilize an online calendar to schedule the multiple daily deliveries and keep track of the project schedule. Additionally, Grouws explains daily or weekly meetings help ensure that everyone is aware of what materials are coming in, who has equipment coming on, who is doing what, etc.

"You can plan, you can sit down with everybody, come up with a plan, and it will change in a heartbeat," Underwood says. "It's daily communication with the field to see what's going on, is the field keeping up with the schedule, is the field behind, do I need to adjust my schedule, because if you have to adjust your schedule, then you have to adjust your appointment time, and you have to adjust the truck drivers. So there's this snowball effect, and it all starts with the field." Additionally, Underwood recommends going out to the job site once or twice a week to see exactly what's going on and forecast any possible problems or schedule delays.

Grouws recommends planning as early as possible, even as early as bid time. "Make sure to identify challenges at that point to be able to successfully manage the project once it moves forward," he says. "Whether that is what type of equipment selection you do, or just knowing that access to the site will be difficult, you're going to need to schedule man power accordingly."