Speed to market and overall cost are dueling, driving forces behind initial self-storage construction decisions, which is why a well-defined timeline is critical to meeting project goals. Let’s look at things to consider when setting that timeline, plus some of the factors that can impact your ability to keep a project on time and within budget.
Start With a Good GC
It’s smart to engage a quality general contractor (GC) early in the self-storage construction process, as that person can help you create and manage your timeline, and provide strategic knowledge to help you stay on track. His insight on the impact of certain building materials, or his understanding of local building ordinances and municipal requirements, can play a critical role in the success of your project.
For example, depending on whether you’re implementing a load-bearing stud system, a 10-by-10 structural grid system or a combination of both, it might be valuable to know that while isolated spread footings are the industry standard, a mat slab can save you as much as two weeks. Your choice between fiber or rebar can also impact your timeline. The same is true with your selection of insulated metal panels vs. a traditional, metal-panel veneer. These critical choices will shape the timeline and budget from the outset of the project.
In short, a GC can help you reach your goals. If you’re building self-storage in a competitive market, you may be more focused on speed than cost. If you’re on a tight budget, you might be more flexible on time but need help to manage expenses. In either case, your GC can recommend materials and processes to meet your needs.
Assemble the Rest of the Team
Your GC can also assemble and closely manage an expert team of professionals who will be committed to meeting your timeline. A rigorous prequalification process for selecting trade partners, balanced with knowledge of the most appropriate subcontractors for the project type, is essential. Trade partners should be in a good spot financially and have an excellent safety record. It’s also important to ensure they employ the talent to initiate and drive the project’s critical path to the point of revenue generation.
Once you’ve selected your complete construction team, capitalize on their expertise. This creates greater team buy-in and further develops a well-formed agenda. It also helps you identify any potential long lead times for materials, ensuring that any purchasing issues can be addressed early in the process.
Know and Stick to Your Critical Path
When creating your self-storage construction timeline, one of the first steps is to identify your “critical path”—the longest path from start to finish. This helps determine the runway to completion and measures the most time-consuming tasks. It should cover milestone dates, which might include but are not limited to:
- Construction mobilization
- Underground utility installation
- Building-pad delivery
- Stone and binder course
- Structure top-out
- Building dry-in
- Office completion
- Substantial completion
Each milestone is a choke point for the next sequence of activities. The GC should obtain input from major subcontractors, such as the sitework team and steel erectors, to determine realistic timeframes and hold all team members accountable for their respective responsibilities and deadlines.
Once construction begins, your GC’s superintendent should hold weekly subcontractor meetings and actively participate in all OAC (owner, architect, contractor) meetings throughout the project. This allows him to re-sequence work as needed and adjust the time when certain construction activities occur, which enables the GC to keep you informed of any change to the completion date. You’ll need to know this so you can prepare for staffing, delivery of office furniture, facility lease-up, etc.
Just be prepared for some roadblocks along the way. If you can keep a project moving in the face of obstacles, you’ll save thousands of dollars and precious time. For example, if the architect is challenged to gain approval by the jurisdiction, shift gears to pull a foundation permit so work can continue. Having intricate knowledge of the permitting process—and how to leverage it—is where an expert GC can save the day. Understanding municipalities is a skill; navigating them to remain on task is a craft.
Unpredictable weather is another real challenge that can cost time and money. For example, if the team has to stabilize the soil, it can be hundreds of thousands of dollars! One of the most effective strategies to prevent weather-related disruptions is to install an asphalt binder and building pad as soon as possible. By taking a proactive approach to stabilize the site in the beginning, your project can stick to its critical path. This also keeps the job site and neighboring roads cleaner.
Plan, Communicate and Connect
When building self-storage, troubleshooting can be costly. The best way to prevent problems during the course of your project is to plan early, communicate consistently with your team throughout the design phase, and build advantageous relationships.
For example, geotechnical considerations can significantly impact design and are worth the investment to investigate. Factors such as seismic site coefficient, modulus of subgrade reaction, deep foundation and/or ground-improvement systems, ground water, expansive clays, etc., can drastically influence the overall project. Knowing these things ahead of time allows the construction team to plan and deliver the most cost-effective design.
Similarly, it’s important to understand municipal zoning and code requirements and collaborate with local officials. You want to ensure everyone is on the same page. Fostering relationships with jurisdictions and positioning yourself as a long-term contributor to the community can make a significant difference in your ability to navigate complex situations. Whether it’s working through a discrepancy in code interpretations, understanding the intricacies of neighboring jurisdictions, or negotiating a temporary Certificate of Occupancy, regular communication and relationship-building are critical to project success.
It’s equally important that the construction professionals with whom you work are adept at navigating local jurisdictions. Not only does this help ensure any missteps with officials don’t negatively impact your schedule, it helps you take advantage of pending building-code updates, such as the new fireproofing standards and restroom requirements slated to be released in 2021. Early and frequent communication across all parties, including local officials, trade partners and others, will help you identify issues quickly, determine their impact and devise a speedy path to recovery.
Keep It on Track!
Early planning and creative strategies can minimize or eliminate obstacles that can slow your self-storage construction timeline and increase costs. Early, frequent communication is also key. When disruptions occur, it’s imperative that the GC work closely and quickly with the team to assess the situation and devise a recovery plan.
Given that a construction timeline is fluid and will change regularly, it’s important to ensure the critical path remains unaltered. If you can stay on track, you can complete the project on or before the original target date!
Robyn Schoch is a project executive for Swinerton Inc., a commercial construction company specializing in self-storage and several other sectors. She handles contract administration and serves as project lead, overseeing all preconstruction, estimating, procurement and construction services. A practitioner of flexibility management with more than 12 years of self-storage experience, Robyn is highly motivated to meet the unique challenges each project presents. For more information, visit www.swinerton.com.