6 steps to avoid the ‘transition gap’ between construction and operations

By Tim Cool

For those of you who’ve followed my writing (and rants), you know that we’ve explored the total cost of ownership of a church facility on several occasions. We’ve seen that the cost of operations of a facility far exceed the initial cost of construction, which may have been an eye-opener for many. However, there still is a significant disconnect with many church leaders and the teams they engage on this reality and how almost every decision made during the planning, design and construction of a facility will impact the performance, operational costs and life-cycle of their facilities.

Thus, enter what we can call the “Transition Gap.”

Between the end of a facility’s construction and the beginning of its operations – and the ministry it will “house” – there’s a substantial transition period where most, if not all, of the professionals who designed, installed and verified the initial conditions of the building cease to be involved. A new team of people begins to run the building, taking on the phase with far greater cost and environmental impacts. This shift in personnel presents one of the greatest risks to a building’s ability to bridge the gap from construction to efficient operations.

Unfortunately, very few churches take the appropriate steps to prepare for the transition gap between construction and operational.

Today, many church development projects follow a decades-old approach to the design and construction process, the contractual agreements the teams are under, and the protocols of communication between team members. Most importantly, the typical roles represented at the table haven’t changed in a very long time, although buildings have become far more technologically complex. That’s why I’ve preached and tried to evangelize church leaders on the need to adopt a fully integrated approach to facility development.

Technology in a church facility is not just limited to computers and email. The new “tail” that wags the dog of most projects is the AVLA systems (audio, video, lighting, acoustics), wireless communication, multimedia,  HVAC control systems, computer networking, door access systems, electrical controls (sensors, offsite controls, etc.),  kids check-in kiosks and a whole host of other things. I’m working with churches that have a larger IT department than youth leaders, and as many production/AVL team members as children’s staff.

The world has changed; this is no longer your “father’s Oldsmobile.” In far too many cases, the process of creating a new building typically follows the linear path of planning, design, construction, turnover and operations. This no longer works (at least not effectively).

In the old model, we find that during the earliest and most critical phases of planning and design, not all members of the ideal team are present. Of particular note, rarely is the facility manager or operations pastor/director present during design discussions. The person expected to manage an operations and maintenance staff and effectively uphold the performance of a building should clearly have input during the design phase; yet, rarely is this person consulted until much later in the process.

Another weakness in the traditional model is that it’s common for design roles to remain segregated and communication minimal with all parties rushing to be “done” in order to preserve profit or meet personal agendas. Everyone involved up to construction completion essentially leaves, turning over the facility to an entirely new group of professionals. Even assuming the building is in top shape upon delivery, the new staff lacks the “back story” of why systems were designed the way they were and why settings were set the way they were. Without this knowledge, the operations, facility management and technology staff can’t possibly be expected to achieve the performance set forth in design.

If you’re planning any form of facility development project (tenant improvement, renovation, facility expansion or a brand-new site development), it’s critical to take the following steps to avoid the transition gap:

  1. Involve your operations and/or facility team leaders during the planning and construction of the facility.
  2. Involve as many experts and partners in the technology fields as possible early in the design process and throughout construction.
  3. Do not assume that technology/AVL and other such things will just take care of themselves, or that it can wait until the end of the project. Big mistake.
  4. Plan to start the “commissioning” process several months prior to the completion of construction to make sure there is not a stark “stop/start” from construction to operation.
  5. Document, document, document.
  6. Train, train and re-train.

The transition gap can be closed and even completely eliminated if you apply these steps.

Tim Cool is project executive at Visioneering Studios in Charlotte, NC, and founder of Cool Solutions Group. Since 1986, Cool has served the church community in the areas of construction, facility planning and facility management. He can be reached at tcool@visioneeringstudios.com.

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