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Engaging the Community on Active Construction Sites


When searching for a construction manager (CM), their engagement with the surrounding community is likely a healthy indication of how the company operates. Whether the project is a higher education building, medical center, or hotel, each will become part of the local neighborhood. A community-engaged company recognizes that open communication and transparency will push the project forward successfully. When a CM builds strong relationships and gives back to the community as much as possible, it’s expected that the company will go above and beyond to reach the client’s goals.

Hourigan is currently working on a 55,000-SF multi-use academic building on Grounds at the University of Virginia. The UVA Contemplative Commons (CC) project includes academic classrooms for multi-disciplinary use and co-curricular spaces supporting student personal growth, skills development, well-being, and community building. An active construction site on the university’s operational grounds provides opportunities to show what community engagement looks like, how it educates those engaged, and the benefits it provides to all parties involved.

Community Involvement

Providing engagement opportunities to the local community generally garners more support and enthusiasm surrounding the project. Generally, our clients don’t build for their own personal use. There is a purpose to each and every building encounter, and it usually serves the need of a community. Involving

Communication on a construction project is vital to the success of the overall effort.  Gathering different perspectives and feedback from the community, students, et al, provides opportunities, where possible, literally meets the need of the community and the intended purpose for these projects – passionately shaping tomorrow, today. Feedback opportunities can span myriad topics, including the site aesthetic, process on-site, impact on vehicular and foot traffic outside of the project’s limits, impact on environmental conditions, ways the design can be modified to better fit end user can modify or tweak the design to better fit their process long-term.

Teaching Future Leaders

UVA recently launched a Construction Engineering and Management (CEM) program giving the students the opportunity to create a career path in large-scale construction and infrastructure development. Hourigan is always looking to foster teachable moments to help motivate and educate students on the construction process, including everything from project management to sustainable building techniques.  At UVA CC, the engineering department has created many of these opportunities, through the regular and ongoing support of the CEM program. Here are some ways the CEM program has been involved at the UVA CC site:

Hourigan Project Executive, Ryan Byrd, takes UVA CEM students on a job site tour at UVA CC.

There is something very tangible and evident about the built environment. Providing opportunities for UVA students to put their hands on the Contemplative Commons through student tours, curriculum-enhancing activities, and internship opportunities creates a lasting impact for them on Grounds. Twenty years from now, these individuals can be proud of the collective effort put forth, captured by the lasting existence of the building itself.

Benefits of including the community

Encouraging involvement on the job site, facilitated by the CM, benefits the client, the community, and overall project result. Involving those around the community helps the CM better understand how to create the best facility possible. Working with a CM that thrives off community engagement comes with a lot of benefits some might not have considered. The importance of community involvement cannot be overstated. While the public can enhance the outcome of the project itself, there are other lasting impacts of the community and, for projects such as UVA CC, student engagement.

Brand Awareness

Choosing a CM who is woven into the community will gain the client a new level of brand exposure. The benefit of the CM’s known involvement in the area likely has employees on different town boards, actively participating in charity events, and volunteering in multiple organizations. The CM has left a positive mark on the community already and, therefore, built a confident reputation amongst neighbors.

Employee Engagement

In many cases, a CM that pushes community engagement also encourages employee engagement from their broader organization. Volunteer activities and events regarding the construction are often a group effort, which allows employees to build strong relationships with one another. This allows the team to produce a higher quality outcome because of the collaboration built to reach the most innovative ideas and solutions.

Workforce Development

Building the workforce of tomorrow starts with engaging communities today. Education, advocacy, and exposure to the industry opens doors to career paths that may not have been previously considered. Coming off the heels of a pandemic, it should be recognized that the construction industry was one of the leaders through the crisis, remaining essential and sustaining the local and nationwide economy during that time.

The UVA community gathers to celebrate the topping out, a milestone that marks the completion of the building’s structure.

Coming Together

An effective CM should understand the importance of community engagement and its impact on overall project success.

Active construction sites provide ample opportunities to engage with the local community. On the UVA CC site, its location on University Grounds and high surrounding pedestrian traffic have contributed to an active, community-centric site. At the topping out ceremony, a milestone that marks the completion of the building’s structure with the placement of the final structural beam, students and passersby inquired and watched alongside the team as the final beam was placed. A simple question sparked interest and grabbed the attention of passing students. Conversations and opportunities like these could inspire the industry’s future leaders. Projects constructed for community use require a more face-to-face, hands-on approach to surpass goals for the project. Through this level of engagement, closer, stronger, and better communities are built.

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