As part of our Problem Solved series, Habitat speak with Karen Jackpartner of Forbes-Ergas Design Associates.
Renovation projects almost always run into hiccups and delays, but you recently ran into an unexpected problem.
It was a hallway redesign in an Upper West Side co-op with about 500 units – carpets, walls, lighting and new door hardware. We had to replace all existing door handles with levers to be Americans with Disabilities Act compliant, which needed to be done before starting the other works, so these were ordered first. Typically there is a 12 week lead time to get them, but we were later told it would be 16 weeks due to supply chain issues caused by COVID. Then it was 20, 24 weeks. He kept dragging himself.
Did this have a domino effect on other work?
Yes. The council had purchased the hardware, wall coverings, lighting and other materials rather than the contractor because designers can get discounts, and it had arranged for a locksmith to install the door levers and plates. So it had to be postponed. Another issue was getting the crown molding, which hides the cables that run the length of the wall where it meets the ceiling. Ordering the moldings was part of the contractor’s scope of work, but there were also delays in getting the moldings. In the meantime, the demolition had already started in the corridors.
The project had therefore come up against two major obstacles. What happened next ?
The contractor changed the work schedule and did what he could, like painting the ceilings and doing preparatory work on the walls. The renovation also included the compaction rooms, and work has started on that. Even when there are project delays, you want to avoid pulling workers out of 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 work moving was a conscious decision by the board, and I think it was the right decision. And finally all the materials arrived.
How frustrated was the board with supply chain issues?
Board members were very understanding. It was supposed to be a 32 week project, but it ended up being 40 weeks. When the work is not completed within the agreed time frame, contractors normally have to pay the building a certain amount of money each day until the work is completed. But the council put that penalty on hold due to supply delays and did not restart the clock until the cast arrived. And even though the prices had skyrocketed, the contractor didn’t make a change order and took on some of that cost.
In other words, there were accommodations on both sides. What is the lesson for the boards here?
I would say: anticipate delays. Designers and contractors are doing their best to get accurate deadlines on projects, but with these supply chain issues, everyone is spiraling out of control. The other thing is to have constant communication. We met with the board weekly at the same time to go over updates and sometimes we even made joint calls with vendors. When you communicate constantly, work tends to flow more smoothly, even in the face of setbacks and delays.