As part of our Problem Solved series, Habitat spoke with Karen Jack, a partner at Forbes-Ergas Design Associates.
Renovation projects almost always run into hiccups and delays, but you encountered an unexpected problem recently.
It was a hallway redesign at an Upper West Side co-op with about 500 units — carpets, walls, lighting, and new hardware for the doors. We had to replace all the existing door knobs with levers to be Americans With Disabilities Act compliant, which had to be done before starting the other work, so those were ordered first. Typically there’s a lead time of 12 weeks to get them, but then we were told it would be 16 weeks because of supply chain issues caused by COVID. Then it was 20, 24 weeks. It just kept getting dragged out.
Did that have a domino effect on the other work?
Yes. The board had purchased the hardware, wall coverings, lighting and other materials rather than the contractor because designers can get discounts, and it had scheduled a locksmith to install the door levers and plates. So that had to be postponed. Another problem was getting the crown molding, which hides the cables that run along the wall where it meets the ceiling. Ordering the molding was part of the contractor’s scope of work, but there were delays getting the molding as well. Meantime, demolition had already started in the hallways.
So the project had hit two big roadblocks. What happened next?
The contractor changed the work schedule and moved ahead with what they could, like painting the ceilings and doing prep work on the walls. The renovation also included the compactor rooms, and work started on that. Even when there are project delays, you want to avoid taking workers off the job if possible because you want the same people for the duration of a project. Residents also want to see the same faces and the same crew. So keeping the job moving was a conscious decision by the board, and I think it was the right move. And eventually all the materials came in.
How frustrated was the board by the supply chain problems?
The board members were very understanding. This was supposed to be a 32-week project, but it ended up being 40 weeks. When work isn’t finished within the agreed timeframe, contractors normally have to pay the building a certain amount of money each day until the job is done. But the board put that penalty on hold because of the supply delays and didn’t start the clock again until the molding arrived. And even though prices had gone through the roof, the contractor didn’t do a change order and ate some of that cost.
In other words, there was accommodation on both sides. What’s the lesson for boards here?
I would say: anticipate delays. Designers and contractors do their best to get accurate lead time on projects, but with these supply chain issues it’s out of everyone’s control. The other thing is to have constant communication. We met with the board every single week at the same time to go over updates and sometimes we even did joint calls with vendors. When you’re always communicating, jobs tend to run smoother, even where there are hiccups and delays.
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