Missing a commercial deadline can be like watching a slow-motion train wreck.

Earlier this summer, I went to the county fair, and while walking around with my wife and son, we stopped by a booth for a local pre-school. Turns out, this preschool is under construction near our residential community. I had watched construction progress through varying stages, when I would occasionally pass by that direction. I think it was early June when I saw it last. With less than three months to school starting, the amount of work left made me think they would be hard pressed to finish in time for the school year.

In talking with the owner, it was clear that she was fully expecting, or probably moreover, hoping, that her school would be open for business at the beginning of the school year. Clearly, she had already made financial commitments with that expectation.

Commercial enterprises are critical because time tends to be more intimately connected to money. While it’s true that every situation is different, still I can imagine… They already bought the land. They borrowed heavily, leveraging their house (and perhaps even retirement investments) to design and build a beautiful, brand new 8,500 square foot specific-use facility from the ground up with all the landscaping, parking and water retention required by Building Code. They have enrolled kids for the 2012-2013 school year and taken enrollment deposits. They hired teachers and contracted with utility companies and vendors. In addition to payroll and vendor commitments, they most likely started making payments on their debt and they won’t stop hemorrhaging money until they have kids sitting in their school.

I am sure you can imagine how very important it is that they get the project finished on time. Arguably, all owners want to make sure that their project finishes on time and on budget. It may be even truer for commercial and institutional owners where time is literally tied to money.

Now, I usually don’t drive in that direction of my neighborhood, so I haven’t thought about the school for some time, but the other day my wife and I were talking and for some reason that school came up in our conversation. She tells me that it still isn’t done.

Right about now, I can imagine those owners going a little crazy because the project isn’t finished yet. They cannot get an occupancy permit until it is finished, and they cannot use the facility until they get that permit. At worst, they have to start incurring some vendor and payroll costs. The owners may have to return deposits and they may have to wait a semester or two before students are again enrolled in the school.

When I started casually watching the job progress, I had a sense that all was not well in Camelot. Construction Professionals can easily spot issues that will cause project delays. Sometimes it’s like watching a slow motion train wreck and what’s hard is relating these predictions to an optimistic owner.

In the end, it is always possible to look back and find which events or series of events were responsible for the delays, but it doesn’t matter. This owner is now in the midst of that horrifying construction experience that makes people usually end up saying, “I’ll never do that again!”

While there are some actions that will probably get the project moving again, in construction, it is always better and cheaper to act proactively than reactively. Unfortunately since the deadline has passed, anything the owners do at this point is damage control.

© 2012, RCartright. All rights reserved.

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