October 11, 2017

Safety: Building Within Occupied Spaces

Building within occupied school spaces often presents challenges. To ensure the safety of occupants and construction crews, proper planning must take place to ensure the safety of students, staff, community, and environment.


Firewalls and doors

It is important to first identify the location of occupants in relation to the construction site. This helps determine firewall locations between occupied and construction areas. Fire separations consist of entry doors leading into the construction space and require detailed coordination with the Fire Marshal, and during pre-planning team meetings during the preconstruction process, to help identify all fire barriers with proper egress, prior to the start of construction. Once locations are identified, temporary firewalls and doors are captured during the bidding process. All firewalls and doors are installed during non-occupied times. Once complete, the construction process can commence according to schedule.

At Utica High School, the Barton Malow project team built firewalls between all areas of work and occupied spaces. Fire doors were added to the temporary walls to allow egress to the spaces. Each fire door was equipped with a door closer and panic device hardware to allow safe exiting of the space.

Air Quality

Air quality is critical for the safety of students and staff within the occupied space. Without proper planning, contamination from dust, chemicals and various products can affect the building’s occupants. Work that results in potential odors can be a concern in any occupied space. Regular team meeting are held to identify products and work that will create offensive smells.

Meetings are held with the principal and staff to review known allergies or sensitivities to smells or latex and oil-based paint products. This can often be a challenge as some students and staff occupy the building after hours while participating in after school activities. Therefore, scheduling the work after hours is not always the answer. This proactive exploratory process determines the level of work that can occur during different times of the day.

Any cutting of metal must occur outside the building and not within 50-100 feet to prevent negative air from entering the occupied space. The field team must locate all fresh air louvers for the mechanical units within the building. Knowing these locations, the project team can prevent contractors from parking a telehandler, delivery truck, or other equipment too close to an outside air louver. All cutting of materials and placement of gas burning equipment shall be placed in an identified safe location. Our project teams also pay close attention to the weather, as wind speeds can sometimes change location requirements.

It can be very challenging to keep air from entering occupied spaces. Ensuring the installed firewall is sealed 100% as required helps keep pollutants out of the building. Temporary exhaust fans that pull air out of the construction zone can be beneficial. On many projects, Barton Malow has either used an existing exhaust fan, or installed a unit at a window within the construction area. By doing so, a negative air space is created within the building pulling air from the occupied space. This ensures no smells from the construction zone will enter the occupied space.

Overall, any work that creates smells such as flooring, painting, etc., occurs after hours and with coordination of after-school activities.

Additional Pre-Planning Considerations

  • Emergency evacuation
  • Construction work hours
  • Noise control
  • Work that will interrupt, or be a nuisance to, the occupants during non-instructional hours
  • Location of construction, or portable, toilets
  • Survey of asbestos and/or lead
  • Pedestrian paths
  • Construction parking in relation to the staff
  • Location of temporary fencing
  • Staging of material for both safety and security
  • Use of high-quality, metal carbide blades and grinders to help mitigate unpleasant odors
  • Noise Control at Utica High School

At Utica High School, the project team solved a noise control issue by creatively scheduling and coordinating work down to the minutes in between classes. After review and approval by the principal and staff, the sheet metal contractor would install hangers prior to start of school. While class was in session, they continued to install the duct with minimal use of screw guns. All contractors were provided the schedule of the classes and times when the bell would ring each hour. When the bell would ring, in between classes, all contractors drilled anchors and hangers in an assembly line for the five minutes. When class resumed, they then continued with installing the material to the hangers and studs to the track – like a finely-tuned symphony!

Staff Involvement

School construction projects cannot be successful without staff involvement. Prior to the start of construction, Barton Malow project teams meet the stakeholders during a principal’s staff meeting. The construction process is reviewed and school staff is brought in as part of the team. This helps teachers identify as part of the process, becoming a valuable part of the team and a key component to the success of the project.

Working within occupied buildings is always challenging. Proper planning and communication leads to safe, productive, and successful projects.

Read the full issue of BUILD 17.1 | 21st Century Learning Environments which features our recent K-12 projects.