When constructing in a residential area, we all know the importance of being good neighbors. This can mean anything from working closely with local officials to going door-to-door to introduce ourselves to the people whose immediate environment we will be affecting for the next year or more.

While the focus on completing a high-quality project is front and center in the minds of any given project team, community relations can make or break a company's most prized possession—its reputation. An angry neighbor will not hesitate to call the hospital to voice displeasure about noise or dust. No one wants that.

Most companies have had positive experiences with the residents who are affected by such projects, but many can also relate to the challenges of constructing in a populous area. As an industry we can benefit from sharing those learning experiences. Below are some examples of how our project teams have worked to keep communities aware of what lies ahead when it comes to healthcare construction in their neighborhoods.

A Friendly Introduction

During major projects at one of our area hospitals, the project team and staff held neighborhood meetings before the construction started. Neighbors were told what to expect and given a rundown of the project's timeline. This simple courtesy alleviates much of the anxiety that “fears of the unknown” can stir up.

Public hearings are one of the most convenient ways to connect with a community, allowing a project team to absorb the mood of residents and create a communication plan. We encourage residents to ask questions through the duration of the project. “It's important to keep the community informed. That's a major part of being a good neighbor,” says Bryce Unger, this project's construction manager. He adds that the hospital's staff have even gone door-to-door to get resident feedback.

Personal interaction goes a long way toward keeping community members informed. For example, we used a helicopter to lift air handlers onto a hospital roof. To avoid surprising neighbors with the noise and unusual proximity of the helicopter, the construction team went door-to-door delivering flyers and explaining why the helicopter was needed.

“We always strive to be courteous. For major or unusual events, like the helicopter usage at this hospital, we need the community to be educated about what we're doing. It makes our job and their lives easier,” says Mark Lillesand, another project manager who helped with neighborhood relations at the hospital.

Solving Problems—Naturally

Since construction noise has been known to make neighbors uneasy, creative ways of reducing or eliminating it is essential. The construction team working on the parking garage at another local hospital had a plan for muffling noise and complaints.

Noise was inevitable during this project. The structure was designed to provide space for 160 vehicles, and it was to be built on top of the building's emergency department. During its construction, however, the CG Schmidt crew broke with the traditional sequence and did some landscaping before they started major work on the garage. Mature trees were planted along the property line adjacent to what would be the 70,000-square-foot structure. Placing trees between the parking garage and neighboring homes would alleviate unwanted views and noises.

“This solution was not only very practical, but it was also natural. If we can add to the aesthetics of a community and solve a problem at the same time, that's the best kind of solution,” says Terry Koth, project executive at the hospital.

Buses, Car Washes, and Flat Tires

In one of the communities we serve, parking often can be a problem, and adding the construction crew's cars exacerbates the problem. During the recent construction of a women's healthcare facility, 200 workers could be on-site at any given time. To keep surrounding residential streets free of our cars, crews were bused in from two miles away. Subcontractors encouraged their teams to use the shuttle by offering coffee and donuts—and an occasional door prize. It worked great!

We also made sure the neighbors’ cars were kept clean. On any construction site, extra fill and foundation material turn to mud in wet weather, as was the case with this project. Although we could not drape neighboring cars in plastic on wet days, we could offer car washes free of charge if one of our vehicles drove by and sprayed up some mud.

Unfortunately, tires also can become victims of construction activity, which is why this project's team was willing to compensate all complaints of damaged tires at CG Schmidt's expense. Says project superintendent Jim Rooney, “If employees and patients had a flat tire, we never questioned it. For $25 each we had the tires plugged and repaired. That small cost is worth it to us because it keeps our client happy.”

More importantly, this program has heightened our awareness of the need to keep the streets free of debris, mud, and hazards.

Being a good neighbor is as important as constructing a quality facility. Your construction firm's behavior affects the customer's reputation and can affect the quality of life of area residents. Preplanning and learning from past projects can help you to be more considerate neighbors, so that your clients, their patients, and their neighbors won't mind having you visit again. HD