The Risks of College Expansion


Construction is booming so much that in 2015 alone, U.S. construction projects costs reached $1 trillion, the highest recorded amount since 2008, according to estimates offered by the Census Bureau. A large portion of this construction is happening on the campuses of colleges and universities across the country.

New construction and renovation costs have become near certainties year after year as colleges and universities continue to break ground on student housing, research labs and lecture halls. However, undertaking these large projects comes with a fair amount of risk, and university decision makers often overlook several insurance risks before expanding.

Understand your Policy

The risks faced by colleges and universities are diverse, complex and global, and can be compared to those faced by a small city. Construction projects within a campus environment create additional unique risks and challenges. When addressing these risks, higher education risk managers face the difficult challenge of identifying, assessing, managing and understanding how their insurance policy responds to construction related events: How do they protect the student population? What if a worker is injured on the job? How does the project fit into the institutions business continuity plans?  What happens if materials for a build are delivered weeks late? Who is responsible for injury to the public? Make sure all of your ducks are in a row before the expansion. Carefully review your current insurance coverage, as well as that of the contractors involved, and all costs related to the project. A risk mapping exercise can be very helpful in identifying which high frequency and severity risks are addressed by current policies.  Doing so will ensure you have proper coverage while also mitigating financial risk due to gaps or duplicate coverage.

Control Access

University decision makers must ensure the safety of students, employees, and visitors throughout the construction process. To assure security, the general contractor must control all project access points to prevent unauthorized people from entering.  Designated entry points, a badge or card swipe system, or a "sign in" system for all visitors to the site will enable the institution and contractor to monitor entry, present all safety requirements such as hard hats, and other personal protective equipment, and even sign appropriate waivers. The campus must also install surveillance cameras to monitor the site, especially after hours, and prevent curious students from accessing work areas.

All contractors must also be screened through background checks. You don't ever want a contractor with a history of sexual assault or other violent crimes to be working on your campus.  A good starting point is the pre-employment screening process currently utilized by the institution. Background checks, pre-employment drug screening and prior work references may not only prevent liability and workerscompensation claims, but may also help assure the project is completed on time and on budget. 

Wherever possible, colleges and universities should create unique access points for construction and delivery vehicles.  Separate roadways will prevent damage to existing roads and sidewalks caused by large trucks and cranes moving in-and out of the project site.  They will also help to avoid pedestrian injuries as well as damage to other vehicles or buildings.

Develop A Response Plan

Before taking on a construction project, the No. 1 focus of the institution should be the safety and well-being of the campus community. Pre-project planning and risk management review is critical, but the institution's response after an event has occurred is equally important.  What happens if a welder starts a fire or if a plumbing installation causes a massive flood? What if there is a chemical spill close to campus dorms? Before starting a college expansion project, university risk managers should think of every possible crisis situation and have an emergency response plan in place for each one. Your response to each type of crisis scenario should be planned out and tested. When doing this, the school needs to think about how they will communicate the emergency to students and staff and how they will evacuate those who may be at risk. Tabletop exercises, at a minimum, should be conducted with key university and contractor stakeholders. Inviting community first responders like fire, police and office of emergency management to participate will add tremendous value to all concerned.

Understanding the major risk areas you face prior to beginning a renovation project will help you manage risk from inception to completion. At a minimum, you need to understand your insurance policy, control access to the worksite and ensure the safety of students, employees, and visitors to avoid a lawsuit or reputational damage.

Tony Consoli is the president of the Mid-Atlantic region and national healthcare practice leader of CBIZ Insurance Services, Inc. He can be reached at 877-251-5345.

Current Issue

Check out our latest edition!

alan blog ct

Contact Us

Construction Today Magazine

Cringleford Business Centre
Intwood Road
Cringleford, Norwich, UK

Click here for a full list of contacts.

Latest Edition

Latest Edition

Spread The Love

Back To Top