ISD 728 Prairie View MS 1

An owner’s guide to construction planning

Our team helps clients save time and money while setting projects up for success

Congratulations! Your projects made it through the bidding or procurement process and are ready to break ground. As an owner, it’s important to understand the resources available, and the roles and responsibilities of your partners. As education architects and designers, we help clients expedite the construction partner’s work and act as important advocates for the owner and the quality of the project as it’s built.

We often get asked, “what is the owner’s role during construction?” In the following blog, we’re sharing insights to help owners ensure successful project outcomes.

Initial steps

Before construction starts, we recommend planning a groundbreaking to introduce and generate interest in the new project. While the construction partner typically provides shovels, hard hats, and a pile of sand or dirt to dig into, we recommend that owners also consider the following questions:

  • Which key stakeholders should be invited?
  • Who will give remarks?
  • Do you need a photographer, and what kind of photos should be captured?
  • What do you need to plan the event? (i.e. stage, sound, tents, food, etc.)
  • Will you need signage?
  • What are your marketing goals and plans for the event?
White Bear Lake Groundbreaking
Figure 1: Groundbreaking ceremony at White Bear Lake Area High School in Minnesota

Before construction begins, it’s important to identify a project lead from your organization (i.e. an owner or their representative) to be involved in the process and attend all construction meetings. These meetings typically occur weekly, so make sure the attendee has availability and the meeting dates work for his or her schedule.

In concert with our team and the construction partner, paperwork is completed during this phase. These documents typically include the contract, project communication and management software. There may also be fees for the plan review, permitting processes and insurance policies.

The building code on most projects requires the owner to hire a third party special inspector to inspect the construction and a third party commissioning agent to review mechanical system operations. Our team of architects or the construction partner can help obtain these quotes.

If the building will be occupied during construction, what should be considered?

First and foremost, communication between the building occupants and the construction partner is critical. Strong communication can alleviate surprises and inconveniences for both contractors and occupants. We recommend that an occupant representative attends construction meetings. While construction should be planned around building operations, there are always unexpected challenges to work through like utility shutdowns, noise, odor, and access. Discussing these items in advance of the construction schedule allows for a plan that works for all parties. Challenges typically occur when the contractor doesn’t communicate an operation that may affect occupants or when occupants don’t communicate events that may impact construction. Well-coordinated and communicated activities onsite are critical to maintain site safety and security.

Regardless of the project’s scope, there are several key areas we recommend suggest communicating to your construction partner:

  • Access routes
    • Will current exits be blocked by construction? If so, what temporary measures can be taken to safely exit building occupants?
    • Will current traffic routes be impacted by construction?
    • How will construction deliveries access and affect the site and operations?
  • Will the HVAC or electrical systems be impacted by construction? If so, what temporary measures can be taken so the building can still be used? What are the procedures for accidental interruptions to plumbing, electrical, or fire alarm systems?
  • It’s critical to review any temporary systems with the authority having jurisdiction (building officials). They’ll need to review the temporary systems noted above, along with fire sprinklers, the fire alarm system, and emergency lighting.
  • Will construction impact the exterior envelope? If so, how will the building be kept weather tight during the construction phase?
  • Review contractor access to the existing building and building security:
    • How will contractors be granted access to the building, and how will building occupants be separated?
    • What type of security procedures, such as a lockdown, does the building follow that may pertain to contractors inside your building?

The answers to these questions are different for every project. It’s likely our team of architects and engineers or your construction partner has plans to address these items; however, it is important the building owner and occupants understand the strategies required to keep the building operating.

Shakopee High School Wold
Figure 2: Shipping containers used to protect pedestrians next to Shakopee High School’s construction site in Minnesota

Community or stakeholder relations during the construction phase

The construction phase is exciting because after months (sometimes years) of planning, stakeholders and community members begin to see results. It is important to keep these audiences informed about progress since they are typically unable to access the construction site during the process.

We recommend using your website or social media channels to communicate project progress. Determine who will document photos and send construction updates. If a public body is part of your stakeholder group, i.e. a school board or city council, it’s important to understand their requirements for progress updates. Sometimes, the public body creates a subcommittee to meet with our team, the construction partner and their administrators to stay informed about the process. Other times, a steering committee composed of key administrators meets to monitor the project. These meetings vary depending on the public body but typically occur monthly throughout the construction process. Topics covered at these meeting may include:

  • Schedule – is the project on track?
  • Budget – is the project on budget?
  • Scope revisions and/or cost changes
  • Issues and/or community feedback
  • Periodic tours of the construction site
Owatonna HS Updates
Figure 3: Example of New Owatonna High School’s website communicating project status in Minnesota

What should you look for at construction meetings?

Lots of information is covered at construction meetings. A typical agenda for a construction meeting includes:

  • Review and approval of minutes from previous meetings
  • Review of work progress since previous meeting
  • Field observations, problems, and decisionsIdentification of problems that impede, or will impede, planned progress
  • Review of submittals schedule and status of submittals
  • Review of off-site fabrication and delivery schedules
  • Maintenance of progress schedule
  • Corrective measures to regain projected schedules, if behind
  • Planned progress during the succeeding work period before the next meetingUpcoming utility shut-downs
  • Maintenance of quality and work standards
  • Effect of proposed changes on progress schedule and coordination
  • Special events (graduation, open house, conferences, performances etc.)
  • Other business relating to the work

Items that affect cost, schedule, or building occupants are critical topics during these meetings. Questions can arise about a finish or color selection that needs to be different than planned, and it is essential to have the owner participate in decisions that might modify the original design.

Typically, after the construction meeting, a site walkthrough occurs. It’s important that owners participate in onsite visits because they’re a great time to capture photos and progress updates.

Close out procedures

We recommend construction meetings continue until the project is 100% complete, and often we see construction meetings wrap at the substantial completion date. However, items are often completed beyond that date such as:

  • Punch list completion
  • Commissioning of HVAC systems
  • Close out documents/training

These meetings are critical because they hold all parties accountable to finish the project. Often the push to substantial completion is a major effort by all parties, and once occupants are in the building, it is tempting to ease up. However, this may cause incomplete items to linger. The construction partner needs to provide close out documents to the owner as part of the project’s completion. These documents often include:

  • Training on key building components: The construction partner should create video training sessions and give them to the owner, and the owner should ensure key maintenance personnel are present at training sessions.
  • As-built drawings: These are created by the contractor to document any changes that occurred during construction and most closely mirror the final product. Once they’re received by the owner, they should be cataloged and stored for future reference.
  • Operation and maintenance manuals: These digital or hardcopy manuals are created by the construction partner and are a catalog of all building components. Our team reviews the manuals prior to turning them over to the owner, who will catalog and store them for easy reference
  • Attic stock or extra materials and equipment (cataloged and stored).

Our team typically inquires about previous as-built drawings and operations and maintenance manuals at the start of a new project. These documents have detailed information about project buildings and are a good resource when maintenance projects are needed.

We frequently help clients facilitate the closing out of the contract in conjunction with the construction partner. Storing these documents in a file is important because they are often needed for financial auditing processes. The file should be located in an easy-to-access location for key maintenance personnel and should be well labeled and easy to locate.

The last component of the close out phase is a ribbon cutting ceremony. This is similar to the groundbreaking, but instead of gold shovels, a red ribbon is needed. Planning ahead is important as there is quite a bit of coordination – stakeholders invitations, speeches, schedule of events, photos, media interviews, etc. It’s important and fun to celebrate all parties’ hard work and the opening of the new or renovated facility!

Prairie View E8
Figure 4: Ribbon cutting for The Prairie View E-8 in Otsego, MN

Construction projects are accomplished as a result of collaboration from our design and engineering teams, the construction partner and the owner. The owner’s involvement in the process is critical for a successful outcome. If you need additional information about how we assist owners when planning for construction, please reach out to our team at Wold Architects and Engineers by calling 651-227-7773 or emailing

Ben Beery
, AIA, is an architect at Wold Architects and Engineers and can be reached at Robert Sehm, AIA, is an architect at Wold Architects and Engineers and can be reached

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