While construction in the higher education space is full of challenges, it can be one of the most rewarding segments of the building sector. Not only does the work involve building something tangible, but the end product truly shapes students and the future of our workforce. If we want to nurture them most effectively, however, it starts with improving the actual construction process.
For instance, go to any college campus and take a look around.
What do you see? If you’re on the majority of college or university grounds in America, you’ll see a mix of old buildings and new–projects undertaken with a variety of approaches, architectural styles and leaders at the helm. These vary widely, and often with consequently varied results.
There’s one thing of which you can be very sure, however, is that almost all of these buildings were constructed using analog technologies. Despite efforts toward sustainability in construction and a careful rethinking of higher education spaces, this remains the case: Frequent in-person meetings to discuss changes. Mass printing in the office. Driving to sites to deliver updated plans. As a result, delays in construction can disrupt student life, in addition to other issues.
When one company, Collaborative Structures Limited, started a project for a local Canadian higher education institute, they knew to rely on traditional construction wouldn’t cut it. Instead, they implemented cutting-edge technology to overcome the challenges of higher education construction. Their approach resulted in better collaboration and improved their ability to deliver a significant project on a shorter timeline.
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Better Communication Means More Resilient Timelines and More Effective Budgeting
When Ontario-based Collaborative Structures Limited was awarded the Conestoga College North Campus Expansion Project, it was an exciting opportunity for the construction firm.
“The project was a pivotal job for Collaborative Structures, being as the entire management team and over 75% of our staff in the operations aspect of our company, whether it be superintendents, foremen, carpenters, project managers, project coordinators or estimators, are all graduates of Conestoga College,” explains Jim Blair, Director of Construction Operations, Partner, Collaborative Structures.
“So for us to have that opportunity to not only do a significant project in our own backyard but to have it be for Conestoga College itself was huge for us.”
Nevertheless, the team identified several immediate challenges:
- A nearly overwhelming amount of different tasks that need attending to. Diverse teams and workers must all oversee their responsibilities without losing sight of the larger picture.
- Two million square feet of facilities. With so much distance separating teams, it’s crucial members can communicate in a timely fashion.
- A need to keep academics rolling. CSL was responsible for renovating and constructing an addition to a building currently in operations without disrupting learning.
- Ensuring public money is well spent. With the extra pressure not to waste much-needed public funds, the company needed to ensure that every dollar was not only well-spent but got the very best value.
The team knew that if they were to build a well-designed higher education space and stick to the budget and timeline, they would need to address these challenges from the outset–and would have to use the proper tools to do so.
Why Collaborative Structures Chose Mobile Tech to Meet the Demands of Higher Education Construction
After careful consideration, Collaborative Structures decided to adopt mobile tech as a means of solving the above concerns.
“We ended up choosing PlanGrid because it was the best option for Collaborative Structures Limited,” says Blair, adding that its cloud-based document-control program not only mitigated the need for field operation staff to update their paper documents constantly but gave the entire project team that same ability. It also allowed everyone to work from the same set of drawings and specifications, from in-house staff to sub-trade personnel.
“Especially with projects such as Conestoga College North Campus Expansion, with the fast track approach to the project, changes were happening two, three, four times daily,” he says. “It was absolutely critical that everybody on the team was working from the same set of documents.”
This led to three main benefits:
“One of the main benefits that I’ve seen with PlanGrid is it makes our jobs more efficient,” says Thalia Holder, Project Coordinator for Collaborative Structures Limited. “The site supers can get information immediately, and this helps us to keep on schedule which is very critical, especially with Conestoga.” Holder explains that such a trim timeline meant that keeping on schedule was integral to the project’s on-time delivery, as was minimizing the changes needed along the way.
A Higher Level of Oversight
Plus, adds Blair, it’s often hard to juggle so many projects at once. It can be challenging for management to keep track of everything that’s going on, but mobile tech helps fix that.
“With the number of projects that CSL has on the go right now, PlanGrid gives the management the opportunity to review all of our ongoing projects and the documents from a high level,” he says. “From just a geographic deliverable, PlanGrid has reduced that time for the management team.”
No Learning Curve
In the end, says the Collaborative Structures team, they were perhaps most surprised by the ease of use offered by mobile tech.
“What surprised me about PlanGrid was the simplicity,” says Dave Dietrich, Project Manager for Collaborative Structures Limited.
“I’m not tech savvy. When I took my first computer course, it was is Fortran, and I wasn’t interested then, and I’m not too interested now. I’ve been working off of paper for almost 40 years. But with PlanGrid, I can pick up the tablet and be successful without frustration. If you get an old guy and it’s easy, it gets used.”
The Future of Construction Lies in Mobile Tech
It’s true that many trends are illuminating the future of higher education construction, just as it’s true that many companies are doing it well. Mobile technology isn’t the only solution to longstanding problems of budget delays, cost overruns or the right hand not knowing what the left hand is doing. However, given its accessibility to all team members, relative affordability and extremely flexible nature, it becomes a key part of the solution.