Have you ever had a large sitework change order or has sitework significantly impacted your budget? Conducting a thorough site analysis provides a critical foundation for successful projects and can help avoid unpleasant surprises.
Planning your next commercial construction project involves many steps, everything from creating a building design that adheres to state codes and regulations to determining what resources need to be procured and estimating the overall costs. Getting that wrong during the pre-construction phase could result in costly delays, safety issues, and much unnecessary frustration.
A site analysis provides a comprehensive view of feasibility, potential return on investment and identifies any unique site issues that could add cost to the project. Within four to six weeks, your construction team and civil engineers can complete a site analysis. This due diligence will help you determine whether a project moves forward or if a new site needs to be chosen.
There are three key phases to consider when conducting analysis of your potential construction site.
Phase 1: Review the Big Picture
Information gathering is always the best first step in evaluating the viability of your next construction site. Several key issues should be explored including:
- Geography and topography of the site
- Soil mass grading (cut and fill quantities)
- Utility access
- Estimated cost of infrastructure
Failure to properly address any one of these issues can result in surprise expenses and costly delays.
“Location, location, location,” may be a common phrase in the residential real estate market, but commercial developers should be equally attuned to every challenge inherent in a site location choice. Is the site zoned for your type of building and use suggested and, if not, can it be re-zoned to accommodate? What kind of existing infrastructure is in place that may need to be relocated such as underground power or fiber optic lines? All of this will play into the final cost and feasibility analysis.
Phase 2: Take a Deeper Look
Once you get past a preliminary evaluation of your site, it’s time to dig deeper with geotechnical and environmental analyses so you are not surprised by less visible conditions. Soil can make or break your site selection. Poor and unstable soil conditions can add significant delay and costs. Understanding soil properties is crucial to determine structural requirements to build on top of them.
Your team will need to hire a geotechnical (soils) engineer to look closely at soil types, bearing capacity, and potential hazards including contamination, or buried obstructions that will require remediation. Groundwater sampling and lab testing may be necessary to determine the presence of solvents, metals or other chemicals. Unstable sites can also be unsafe for workers, equipment, and materials.
Some state laws require an environmental assessment to be performed before finalizing the purchase, lease, development, renovation, or demolition of a property. It’s a smart idea to do an assessment to avoid potential environmental liability and financial burdens down the road.
These site evaluation reports are often referred to as a Phase 1 and 2 Environmental Site Assessment, which are standardized due diligence investigations designed to determine whether hazardous materials exist on a property and the potential for liabilities for property purchasers, owners, operators, insurance and lenders.
Whether you are building a new facility or adding onto an existing one, research local municipal ordinances that may be a factor. The following may need to be addressed:
- Traffic analysis to determine the potential increase and flow of traffic.
- Noise ordinances that could interfere with planned operations for the development.
- Requirements for stormwater management and water and sewer utility designs.
After gathering all this intel, it’s a good time to expand on the preliminary assessment. Use your information to conduct further design development and cost analysis of mass grading now that you have a better understanding of how much dirt needs to be moved, imported, or exported. You may even be able to add tax incentives or credits to your budget if state or local municipalities offer these to support development at your site.
Phase 3: Evaluate and Decide
After the appropriate environmental and location analyses have been conducted, the team can move on to a more detailed evaluation of the site design and engineering. This analysis will include reviewing the layout, grading, drainage, and utility design. If your site has potential issues with soil or soil bearing capacity, a soil remediation plan and budget will be a crucial aspect of the site evaluation process. This is typically where a final decision is made about whether to move forward with a particular site.
As work begins on a new or remodeled building, vegetation may be removed, or ground elevation could shift. There is a risk that this may expose soil and other potential hazardous substances that could lead to costly repairs or even halt construction. If something is discovered during this phase, regulatory authorities must be notified to help oversee cleanup and mitigation of identified contaminants. Together with your team, solutions will be determined to resolve these issues.
With the proper planning up front, uncertainty can be reduced, and more informed decisions can be made to set a project up for success. Site due diligence is an essential step that impacts both the short and long-term future of your building project. Following these three phases can help arm project managers with the facts needed to understand all the potential issues involved in building on a particular site and avoid costly surprises.
Erik Dillon is Vice President, LEED GA at Riley Construction headquartered in Kenosha, Wisconsin. In his role, Erik provides executive oversight of key projects and collaborates with leaders to ensure that building projects are safe, efficient, and enjoyable.
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