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Building on Tight Urban Sites


Construction in urban areas has different logistical priorities than facilities going up on open, empty plots of land. Managing material deliveries and pedestrian and vehicular traffic, brings a whole new level of complexity to consider. Communication and collaboration with all parties is always a necessary step in construction; however, in urban areas, there are even more people to extend lines of communication to. From those making material deliveries to the city officials that have the building permit, to the neighboring businesses and residents that need to be met with to discuss the construction plans, each stakeholder plays a part when building on tight construction sites. Tight sites also come with unique safety concerns, such as powerlines and pedestrian protection. All these scenarios are looked at through a different scope when it comes to tight construction sites in urban areas.

Coordinating Material Delivery and Storage on Tight Urban Sites

Delivery Methods

When materials are ready to be delivered to the job site, there are a few methods that can be used. One method used at the 10th and High Street job site, a medical office building in Charlottesville, VA, was the just-in-time (JIT) delivery method. This supply chain method aligns material deliveries to the site just before the installation period. On tight job sites, JIT deliveries make it easier to navigate the site for workers and lessen the risk of material damage. Although this method creates more deliveries overall, as select materials are delivered when needed, it keeps any site free from extra materials. To manage frequent deliveries and avoid congestion, a live document is utilized by trade partners to schedule material deliveries in fifteen-minute increments. This requires all hands-on deck, to quickly transition materials from the truck to its rightful installation location.

Aerial View of 10th & High Street Medical Office Building | Charlottesville, VA

Another method is the tried-and-true whiteboard calendar. At the VCU STEM project, on Richmond’s West Franklin Street, the main artery for delivering materials was a busy one-way street. Thus, it was vital to maintain a clear travel path at all times. While a mix of analog and digital delivery schedules has been used on this site, the predominant favorite was the whiteboard calendar. Some of the oldest scheduling methods can still be incredibly efficient for the right group of workers.

Delivery Timing

Timing material deliveries is another factor that involves more consideration in urban builds. Prior to the start of construction, it is ideal to speak with neighboring businesses, residences, and surrounding municipal buildings to understand traffic patterns and hours of congestion. At the 10th and High Street site, a neighboring school had daily drop-off and pick-up hours right in front of the site, where deliveries were coming in. By communicating with the school, a clear delivery schedule was developed that did not impede school traffic. The team was able to clearly communicate allowable delivery windows with each subcontractor early on, to avoid delays in construction. This binding agreement limited cost exposure to the GC and the owner. Setting expectations between the neighbors and the construction manager early in the process alleviated unnecessary traffic headaches for the school and parents while allowing deliveries to be made on-site to meet the construction schedule.

Another delivery time constraint relevant in higher education work is atypical work hours. At STEM, a site directly adjacent to one of VCU’s freshman dorms, construction disturbance couldn’t begin until 9:00am, when classes were in session. This presented a logistical challenge to the delivery companies and subcontractors who typically scheduled deliveries to arrive between 6:00am-7:00am. Because there was no wiggle room on the start time, material deliveries were constantly on a strict schedule. Establishing expectations with the client and surrounding community stakeholders in the early planning stages goes a long way in creating a job site routine.

Aerial View of VCU STEM Adjacent to Freshman Dorm to the Right | Richmond, VA


Working within a tight job site means minimal space for storing equipment and materials. With multiple subcontractors on-site, creating an efficient plan to stay organized is critical. Neatly organizing and storing materials sets the tone for the entire team on proper housekeeping and cleanliness. One tactic that Hourigan uses across many job sites is a weekly site logistics plan that shows a color-coded map, noting subcontractor work locations and material storage zones.  Communicating a consistent plan on material storage controls placement, ensures a safe exit plan, and prevents multiple contractors from mixing materials together. Following this plan leads to safer conditions because materials are in order and minimizes product waste when materials aren’t mistaken by other contractors on the job.

Communication + Collaboration Benefit the Job Site and its Neighbors

City Officials

Building in the city requires clear communication with city officials. Coordinating with local municipalities is generally a timely task. It’s always good practice to make contact well in advance of the required permit date. Permitting authorities will be able to move through procedures more efficiently by having early and concise communication from the contractor. One way to do this is by inviting the permit authorities to review the plans in person, as well as creating highly detailed logistics plans so the reviewer clearly knows the intent. Having these visual plans leaves no surprises and shows exactly how things should go.

Good Neighbor Policy

Working in a densely populated area usually involves interaction with a neighboring resident or business. Early communication is key. Meeting with each neighbor that may be affected by the construction offers insight on how to help ease any inconvenience. A current Hourigan job site runs up to three private residences, cutting off access to the garages. One of the three houses is rented out by Hourigan as a daytime office for those working on the site. Since the job site was cutting off access to the neighbors’ garages, Hourigan offered their street parking to the neighbors to allow more parking opportunities. For an extra act of goodwill, the team has been emptying the neighbors’ trash every week for over two years now.

On another project, a neighboring business’s biggest concern was noise level. To help alleviate the sound of construction, the team installed a 10’ high privacy fence and attached sound blankets to the business’s windows to help dissipate noise. Finding the little things to help the neighbors being affected by the construction means so much. Sometimes it takes thinking outside the box to come up with a creative idea to help solve inconveniences to neighbors.

Safety Considerations on a Tight Job Site

Operational Safety

One of the first activities when reviewing a new project site is identifying as many known hazards as possible, both visible and buried. Once identified, mitigate the hazards, and create clear signage identifying them throughout the site. Tight sites in the city often run into a stretch of overhead power lines along job sites. Sometimes burying the lines is possible; however, as in this next case, it is not always a feasible solution for the client. At the VCU STEM job site, Dominion Energy came out and was able to move the power lines further away from the project by moving the support arms on the electrical pole. The tower crane on site was also outfitted with GPS limiters to prevent the hook from getting too close to the power lines. These are necessary action items that need to be considered and planned for to keep safety a priority on the job site.

Vertical View of the Tower Crane at VCU STEM | Richmond, VA

Pedestrian Safety

Many tight construction site projects are in high pedestrian traffic areas with zero lot lines. In these instances, safety devices to protect pedestrians from falling objects should be set up. Sidewalk sheds provide a tunnel for pedestrians to walk through to bypass the construction. Netting can also be used to mark off any section of sidewalk that cannot be utilized. Chutes are used for getting materials from one floor to the next or to the dumpster. At no point should tools, equipment, or building materials be too close to the edge of the construction site. Going over the safety plan and checklist will ensure safety for pedestrians and fellow workers.

More than the Average Build

Material delivery methods, material storage, communicating site requirements, and enhanced safety precautions are just some of the logistics that need extra attention on projects with tight job sites. It’s critical to coordinate material delivery in certain time slots during a day’s work. Having an organized and timely delivery method benefits everyone on the job site allowing the whole team to be aware of material deliveries. Storing materials also requires an organized schedule. Given the job site has less space, the materials coming in should be installed prior to the next delivery to keep storage space manageable.

Building time into the construction plan for communication will only make the experience better for all parties. Take the time to reach out to neighboring businesses or residents to explain the construction process and be aware that when dealing with the city for permits, it will take time to get everything that is needed to move forward. Safety is the top priority for the team on site and for those in close proximity to the project. Checking for potential hazards is the first item on the to-do list. Getting third-party help to make the site as safe as possible is always a good consideration.

Building in tight urban sites can seem daunting, but it doesn’t have to be. It boils down to staying organized, setting schedules that work for everyone, communication, and adding in extra layers of safety precautions. These are keys to success while working in tight construction sites.

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