We used to work with a general superintendent who often would ask, “When is the drywall coming?” whenever clients would push an unrealistic schedule on us.
As civil contractors, our work scope was always well past completion by the time drywall or any other interior finish-type materials would be brought to the building site.
It was sarcasm at its best.
Fast-forward 20 years and the joke has lost its luster. More and more in recent years we are asked to come to the site to install the infrastructure for developments after foundations are in, structural steel is set and the masonry has been laid. Even more troublesome is that site work often is being scheduled concurrently with these other trades. These requests result in a loss of production, damage to already installed work, reduced quality of work and, most importantly, safety concerns for workers.
Project owners are dialed in on generating income as quickly as possible, and for those who are constructing new buildings, that means getting tenants in, even if it means putting contractors up against unreasonable demands. The trend of rushing projects to see vertical, out-of-the-ground progress not only is negatively impacting the relationship between owners and contractors, but creating an abundance of other issues.
In a perfect world, our team that is handling site development and infrastructure items would be the first to the project site. Excavating for and installing sewers and water mains is an important first step in the process of any new development. We have been involved with countless projects where construction documents are not yet finalized, and as such, approvals for permits for our work are not in place. Despite this, the owners will push to move forward and simply move onto the next work activity. This in turn forces us to come into the project site much later to work around already-installed work and/or other trades.
Installing essential underground utility systems when there are other workers around setting steel with cranes and installing masonry via scaffolding and skytraks is not safe for anyone. In a market with an already existing labor shortage in the construction industry, it is important that workers feel as though their safety and well-being are valued. While some may think that throwing as many workers as possible on a site at one time will make up for lost time, it makes things much more inefficient and will actually slow down the process. Crowded work sites and improperly sequenced work can lead to damage of previously installed work, which then takes time to replace.
Putting contractors up against unrealistic deadlines leads to rushed work, which means there will inevitably be more mistakes. High-quality builds take time. It is difficult for any tradesperson to do their best work when they encounter obstacles with which they would normally not contend. When there is a building going up that has no site drainage in place, for example, you can count on the site being impassable in the days following any amount of precipitation. This surely will slow down activity on the site.
For projects to be done safely, within budget, and with high quality, it takes strategic and careful planning, as well as patience at the front end. Owners who develop a positive and trusting relationship with their contractors will see higher quality work and have a better finished product. And, hopefully, this will avoid getting an answer to the question, ‘When is the drywall coming?’ at a meeting to discuss site work.