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Working on Live Construction Sites And What It Can Teach You

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Two minutes browsing on Google and chances are you’ll find thousands of residential contractors across Canada, willing and able to renovate your home.

It might be relatively easy (or not) to vacate your property for a few weeks or months while your general contractor nips n’ tucks at every wall, floor, and ceiling in your house. However, things get more complicated when you’re talking about a 12-floor commercial property or a transit station.

Vancouver’s Expo 86 commercial construction boom has now reached its 30-year mark and is need of updating. Offices, transit stations, and multi-use buildings are likely now due for a makeover. These downtown projects—known as live sites—offer a new level of complexity. 

“I believe there is no construction project going on in the Lower Mainland of BC, or any suburban region, that is not a live site in some manner,” said Ronan Deane, Business Development Manager, at Graham Infrastructure LP.

Communication is Key

If Translink’s Main Street/Science World Skytrain station upgrade can teach project managers anything about running dynamic, live site construction projects, it is that their success can be measured in part by the quality of their relationship with stakeholders. Meeting project budgets, deadlines and regulatory requirements quickly lose value when unmet expectations, realistic or not, leave stakeholders with a sour taste in their mouths.

“The public wants the improvements that ministries, cities, and districts are procuring, and construction companies owe it to the public to share, in a concise and relevant manner, the steps being taken to mitigate the impacts that construction has,” explains Deane, who served as project manager on Translink’s Main Street/Science World Skytrain station upgrade.

“Graham’s McLoughlin Point project team performed an extremely complex and intrusive pipe ‘push’ project in Niagara Street in Victoria. The team interacted continually with the people whose day-to-day lives were impacted and became such positive communicators that the public became advocates and supporters of what they termed as ‘their’ pipe” added Deane.

As the inability to work in partnership will sink even the best industry thinkers, today’s builders require an ever-broadening set of management skills.

Understanding Conditions Ahead of Time

As stakeholders increase, one could assume that working harder is simply a fact of life. Yet, project managers, superintendents, and subcontractors are increasingly turning to project management solutions to assist with these complex projects.  

If we’re to understand the implications of our live site projects, we must look at the before-and-after scenario. Has the work provided—at a bare minimum—a status quo for those it had affected? 

Deane pointed to BC  1 Call as an example.

“To mitigate any impact, you must understand what the conditions are before you’ve put a shovel in the ground so that you know what steps you must take to keep things the same.”

Growing Urbanization

Aging buildings aren’t the only factor prompting renovation construction. According to Statistics Canada, the country’s becoming more urbanized; as of July 1, 2018, 26.5 million people live in a census metropolitan area (CMA). Growth in large urban areas (+1.8%) outpaced the rest of the country (+0.6%), and Canada’s three largest CMAs—Toronto, Montréal and Vancouver—are now home to over one-third of all Canadians (35.7%).

Municipalities continue to experience consistent increased usage by the general population. Although municipalities have done their best to push residential development away from densely populated areas. Transit and other infrastructure between the suburbs and these commerce-centric areas will always be needed. 

Four years ago, Ottawa recognized the need for federal funding to support infrastructure upgrades. While there might be divided opinions as to the success of the $370million committed by Trudeau in 2016, Metro Vancouver alone has seen significant rehabilitation.

Challenges and Advantages of Live Sites

It would be folly to say that greenfield sites are easy to manage. There is certainly a level of simplicity compared to inner-city live sites as well as the number of stakeholders involved. At the same time, there are certain advantages to live sites.

“One clear positive of working on a live site is that every day you are reminded ‘why’ the improvement, renovation or upgrade is required,” Deane said. 

Maintaining an existing operation, be it traffic, utility or service is often the biggest challenge in project delivery.

“Construction companies who can deliver their services, while simultaneously limiting the impact on the users, are the ones that clients [stakeholders] value most,” added Deane.

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