How to combine off-site and onsite construction: 3 steps to project success

Millmont College

The twin pressures of shrinking construction budgets and expanding energy regulations are making modular off-site construction more attractive, given its ability to speed construction schedules and ensure airtight construction and minimal waste. Still, there are times when certain aspects of a construction project are best done through conventional onsite construction.

Why not get the best of both worlds?

Here’s how to make a hybrid onsite-offsite project work well, in three simple steps.

1) Put your team together today.

It’s pretty much impossible to integrate modular construction into a project that’s already been awarded. Assemble your team—including a modular manufacturer, general contractor or builder’s rep and architect—before the RFP is being circulated. That way you can come to the project with your integrated project delivery mechanism already in place.

2) Combine modular and conventional construction in the design phase.

Design-build projects—as opposed to design-bid-build projects—are ideal for integrating modular construction but it’s still critical that the two methodologies are combined early in the design phase. The earlier that the modular manufacturer is involved in the process, the more likely it is that all the cost, schedule, quality and environmental benefits of modular can be realized in the project.

The rigorous planning required when a project is conceived as a conventional-modular hybrid actually ends up being of great benefit to the customer. Project roadblocks and “scope holes” are identified and addressed early in the process, avoiding change orders that inevitably increase costs and lead to project delays.

3) Play to the strengths of each type of construction.

Modular construction works best for repeatable components of a building, such as offices, classrooms, dorms and hotel rooms. The fact that the modules are built in a controlled factory environment and building infrastructure is pre-installed makes off-site construction ideal for quality installation of higher tech components such as fire or security systems and sensor-driven or owner-operated environmental controls. Off-site construction is also ideal for constrained sites.

On-site construction is the ideal choice for architecturally significant signature components of a building, such as entryways, and unique building components such as elevators, stairwells and electrical rooms. It also makes sense to install the building skin or roof onsite when a building is particularly large or sprawling.

In the end, combining the onsite and off-site construction means that both can take place simultaneously, shortening overall construction timelines.

Millmont Elementary School combines the best of onsite and off-site construction methods. Built by NRB in partnership with Gilbert Architects and a general contractor, the 98,000 sq. ft. school in Reading, PA, was completely constructed in only 52 weeks.

Download the Millmont project profile