From the Field, Our Story

The Summer Slam: Seasonal Construction in the K-12 Market

As summer dwindles and school nears, construction crews are preparing to hand over the keys on numerous projects involved in the annual summer slam.

Summer slam, a period of two to three months during which a hefty workload of K-12 projects begin and end, allows construction crews to capitalize on the fact that schools are vacant due to summer break for both staff and students. But completely tearing out a building, renovating it, and putting it back together in the span of less than three months’ time is quite the endeavor. With such a tight timeline, planning is key to ensuring all aspects of the project go as smoothly as possible while still allowing for flexibility where it is needed.

“Pre-planning really ensures the timing [of the project] is appropriate,” says Landon Bruegger, Project Manager at Knutson. “Aligning everybody and making sure all contractors are on board before the summer begins helps us to really dial into that tight schedule, so everybody knows what to expect.”

Josh Schwinghammer, Superintendent at Knutson, also believes that the months leading up to a summer slam project beginning are crucial to the project’s success. Since project teams can only work when the building is empty, their timelines begin promptly when students and teachers vacate in early-to-mid June and end when staff moves back in in late August. It is important that each project’s scope of work as well as the time associated with each portion of the build is understood and accepted by all members of the project team to ensure the project gets off the ground quickly and efficiently to benefit all participants. However, that schedule can change at a moment’s notice due to challenges that may arise when work is being done.

“You have to always be looking for opportunities for work areas to move ahead, even if it’s out of typical trade sequence,” says Schwinghammer. “The schedule has to be pretty fluid, like a living, breathing document. You don’t always have the advantage of being super proactive, so the communication aspect is really important as a result.”

Communication between all parties is indeed key. With shortened project timelines, all aspects of the project are expected to conclude more quickly than usual. The time allotted to conclude the job’s final tasks is shorter, inspections must go quicker, and the actual move-in after keys are turned over often becomes a full-fledged project team effort. Any roadblocks that occur along the way need to be dealt with in real-time so many project leads ensure representatives from every trade are on-site to deal with troubleshooting challenges as quickly as possible together. Huddles to exchange pertinent information happen at least once a day to make sure everyone is aware of any changes to previous plans immediately. But even with those efforts, the most large-scale school projects like renovations or full-fledged additions sometimes take more time than is feasible within the 3 months allotted for a typical summer slam. Those projects will often bleed into the next appropriate break to complete, depending on project scope.

“We have a lot of projects where the work in total takes two summer slams,” Bruegger notes. “The first summer, we tackle infrastructure, and get things operational. Items like air supply and mechanical are completed. We will then come back the second summer to replace units and finish final interior work. Timelines really can vary greatly depending on the project scope.”

While project teams try to coordinate work hours during the pre-planning stage, the whole picture of work is not always available – especially with renovations of older buildings, where roadblocks and surprises that may delay the project often lie beneath what is visible to the naked eye. As such, construction crews are prepared to put in extra time to complete the project within the pre-determined timeframe, even if that time entails working on weekends or holidays.

“The least impact for the client, the better, and there is no negotiating when kids are coming back,” Schwinghammer says. “So, we focus on becoming a unified front with owners and design and trade partners, and we all make it our responsibility to ensure a project goes well for community members.”