Building Refurbishments in Occupied Buildings

Ceri Jones
Contrary to popular belief, building refurbishment is not the easy option – especially when the building remains occupied while the works are carried out.

My colleague Joe Cartwright and I enjoyed presenting to local industry professionals in Swansea, as part of the popular Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors (RICS) continuing professional development (CPD) programme. Our audience found our topic, Building Refurbishments in Occupied Commercial Buildings, timely and relevant.

Does Refurbishment Definitely Provide the Best Solution?

The refurb solution may indeed turn out to be the best one, but it first needs comparing with other options. Clients don’t always consider the additional benefits that a new building would bring – eg. the potential for more flexible space; greater carbon efficiency.

Not Necessarily the Easy Option

All sectors are trying to squeeze maximum investment potential at the moment and refurbishment may seem like an obvious choice. It’s a common misconception, however, that a refurbishment is the quick and straightforward option. There are complexities involved and our experience of protecting clients’ interests has given us good insight into de-risking refurbishments, improving the certainty of time and cost outcomes.

Common Refurbishment Pitfalls

  • Accurate building records may not exist, so unexpected issues such as asbestos may crop up.
  • Similarly, general structural stability and underground services (eg. drainage) may not be apparent until works are underway.
  • Lack of capacity for additional power loading, restricting IT plans.

Occupied Buildings

Increasingly clients want to carry out the works while the building remains occupied and this carries its own risks, potentially involving people, IT and/or specialist equipment. This demands a clear understanding of how the occupancy areas are being used – the building’s purpose/activities, conditions needed for the occupants, working patterns, shift patterns, deliveries, waste disposal etc.

Consider these issues:

  • Schedule restrictions – eg. a school may have an exam period where building works are not possible.
  • Access restrictions
  • Power and IT outage issues
  • Dust and noise issues
  • Health & safety issues, for occupants and contractors
  • General disturbance and impact upon occupants

Aim to Vacate the Building During Refurbishment

Not every building can be vacated but, where possible, an empty building will enable contractors to proceed more smoothly through the construction programme. Obviously there is a cost attached to temporary relocation and this has to be factored into the overall budget.

Minimising Disruption if Building Remains Occupied

  • A detailed programme of works should demonstrate the practicalities and viability of the construction works.
  • Good communication between all parties is vital.
  • Weekly and/or daily notifications to occupants, informing them of the current construction activities, will help generate a positive climate.

Tales of the Unexpected

Discussion in the seminar revealed examples of the unexpected coming to light. One building surveyor delegate recalled a seemingly straightforward minor refurbishment in a church building, which turned out to have anthrax contamination. Debate focused on the best way to prepare for the unexpected and to give value enhancing advice to clients.

Professional Support in Assessing Technical Issues and Managing Risks

Faithful+Gould has extensive experience of supporting clients with challenging refurbishment schemes, in a variety of sectors and locations.

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