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Overcoming Pandemic Challenges: Keeping Crews and Senior Residents Safe During a Retirement Community Renovation

Overcoming Pandemic Challenges: Keeping Crews and Senior Residents Safe During a Retirement Community Renovation


By Jenn Said

Across the globe, COVID-19 brought new challenges to nearly every industry, particularly construction. With the possibility of being shut down at a moment’s notice looming, most construction businesses pivoted to new ways of operating projects to keep them moving as COVID-19 took hold.

Ensuring workers followed social distancing guidelines while also making sure they were healthy and productive was no easy task. Jobsite safety took on a new meaning as contractors rushed to implement procedures for social distancing, temperature checks and other precautions designed to keep workers safe.

While nearly every construction business had obstacles to overcome, few were as complex as those faced by VJS Construction Services, a Wisconsin-based contractor that had just begun phase two of a retirement community renovation and construction project. VJS not only had to keep its workers healthy and safe but also the community’s senior residents.

Phase 1 in progress

Overcoming Unique Circumstances and New Safety Considerations

VJS Construction Services began phase one of the Saint John’s on the Lake project in March of 2018. The company was tasked with building a new 23-story residential tower with underground parking, skilled nursing facilities, assisted and hybrid living, and independent living apartments. After the phase one building was complete, VJS set out to demolish an adjoining three-story health services building, but just a few weeks into the process, the emergence of COVID-19 began to impact the contractor’s plans.

Infection control measures were implemented, including twice-weekly COVID-19 testings and daily health screenings for workers. In addition to implementing its own safety protocols, VJS became an integral part of the COVID-19 safety team at Saint John’s on the Lake, working together to protect residents living on site. “It was critical to ensure that the protocols we developed aligned with the community’s requirements,” said Ben Bergles, senior project manager at VJS. “It took a lot of out-of-the-box thinking and coordination between the Saint John’s team and ours, particularly to keep disruption to a minimum for the residents.”

Phase 2 in progress

The teams reconfigured the job site so that workers could access the areas under construction without entering parts of the building that were occupied by residents. “Separating active residents from construction workers, particularly with considerations for healthy airflow, and keeping both as protected as possible from COVID-19 added another layer of complexity to the process,” said Bergles. “Many of our trade partners needed to work between both buildings during the tie-in. We installed temporary barriers to prevent airflow between the two buildings and did most of the demolition from the construction side of the partition so that debris wouldn’t compromise air quality for the residents.”

Despite the challenges brought by COVID-19, the project was completed on schedule. Through close collaboration with Saint John’s on the Lake and careful planning, VJS was able to ensure the health and safety of its crews and the community’s residents and staff.

Modernized Operations Move Project Forward, Bring Long-Term Benefits

For many companies, modern technology was the key to business continuity and navigating the pandemic successfully. Bergles credits Trimble Viewpoint’s Vista ERP solution with the company’s ability to track safety, job progress, invoices, subcontracts and digitally manage documentation over the project’s three-year span.

Vista, which is part of the connected, cloud-based Trimble Construction One suite of construction management technology, standardizes data and streamlines workflows across all phases and functions of construction projects. “When we put together the project three and a half years ago, it was impossible to think of everything,” he said. “Throughout the project, we had to input, update and adjust hours and codes. We wouldn’t have been able to do that efficiently without Trimble Construction One and Vista.”

Through the speed and collaborative benefits of the internet and cloud-based technology, contractors like VJS use real-time data collection and analysis to understand exactly where projects stand and make important decisions that keep both their business and projects profitable.

By simplifying data collection in the field using smartphone apps, online portals, tablets and newer technologies, such as wearables and RFID, administrative tasks are streamlined. “Data captured in the field is automatically routed to accounting for approval,” said Bergles. “This reduced a process that would take weeks down to minutes, and with all the data on hand, accounting teams can process invoices as they come in.”

View from top of Phase 1 to Phase 2 demo

Cloud technologies have been a game-changer for construction companies like VJS. A connected construction software suite can replace multiple, disconnected software systems and varied manual processes with connected workflows and a single source of data truth that can be easily shared in real time across executives, managers, accounting professionals and the field.

Though contractors have long resisted technology change, the past few years have seen leading contractors embrace new construction technologies, setting themselves up to reap long-term benefits. Reflecting on the company’s decision to modernize with Vista, Bergles shares, “I can’t imagine where we would be without it.”

Jenn Said is a freelance writer who covers the construction industry.