Several years ago, we worked with a non-profit community organization to construct their new headquarters and campus. Their chair was the second-generation head of a very large family business and a successful company with offices in about 30 countries. As were finishing up a design meeting, he shared some wise words: “We only have one chance to get it right the first time.” That thought has stayed with me and is the way we try to do our jobs.

Recently, I asked Robbie Cather in our office to share his thoughts on pre-planning for a successful renovation or expansion project. Here are the takeaways:

· Take your whole team to visit the space. If a picture is worth a thousand words, a visit is worth a million.

· Get access to original drawings if you can. Unforeseen conditions can be a big problem, and having those blueprints is the first step to getting a complete picture of what’s there.

· Carefully consider reusing existing building components if you can, including structural elements for maximum benefit.

· Have some flexibility to capture value. Creative reuse and recycling can integrate your brand using what’s there. Save some money and time in the process.

· Ensure you have an adequate plan for existing utilities including depths, locations, sizes and electrical loads. These should be evaluated for adequacy at the beginning of any project. Don’t assume where the pipe is; try and verify.

· Make the initial site survey precise. Misses result in unpredicted costs on the backend. Be thorough – involve the design team, and do your research. The drawings have to be accurate to put together good, complete pricing.

· Don’t sacrifice on the roof. Take advantage of budget surplus to plan for the future and install a new roof. Older roofs, even if still within their lifetime, will take abuse during the renovation. After they are stitched back together, they will never perform the same. In our experience, roofs are typically 10% of the cost and cause 90% of the problems.

· No matter how thorough you are, there will always be issues that come up unexpectedly. Have resources in reserve to deal with them.


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Merrill Stewart is Founder and President of the Stewart Perry Company, a commercial building contractor based in Birmingham, Ala. Contact him via email.
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