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Keeping the Doors Open Part 2 - Cities are Shutting Down and Construction is Getting Creative

RCS Keeping Doors Open
April 25, 2020 at 2:00 p.m.

By Lauren White, RCS Reporter.

How companies, departments, and organizations are able to maintain operations remotely and keep construction projects going. 

Not only are building departments in Portland, Oregon closing down, they’re closing nationwide.  Even with cities shutting down and permit departments closing their doors to the public, they are utilizing their resources to remain operational.  Other areas are halting all construction to protect workers, which comes at a cost for those relying on shelters, affordable housing, and navigation centers.

On the east coast, the Home Builders and Remodelers Association of Cape Cod, Massachusetts issued a notice to inform people about how building departments in the area are operating to issue permits and schedule inspections.  Many of these municipalities closed their buildings to the public and are adjusting how they are providing their services.  

Most municipalities in the Cape Cod area are still issuing permits and scheduling inspections, but are informing customers there may be delays.  Septic permit applications are being accepted by mail, other permits are being issued online, and physical applications are being accepted via a drop box.  Scheduling inspections are going to a case-by-case basis and many inspections will be acted on through affidavits and photos, virtually. Physical building inspections may take place for uninhabited buildings and unoccupied homes.  

Meanwhile, Boston, Massachusetts is the first major city in the U.S. to halt all construction.  According to Construction Dive, Boston Mayor Martin Walsh ordered that, “All projects must be stopped and the work zones secured...with the exception of emergency projects such as roadwork and gas hookups.”  Trade unions in Boston supported the Mayor’s orders. Brian Doherty, general agent of Building Trades Unions, shared, “This is a worldwide pandemic and our public health community has made it clear that social distancing is the only way to combat this virus.”

On the other hand, Stephen Sandherr, the CEO of the Associated General Contractors of America, argued that shutdowns, “will do more harm than good for construction workers, community residents, and the economy.”

Some city leaders are following suit and having construction sites shutdown.  On March 19, Pennsylvania Governor Tom Wolf ordered all non-life-sustaining businesses to close.  The businesses that were ordered to shut down range from “coal mines to building contractors to many types of manufacturers, plus professional offices, including law firms and accounting offices,” Action News 4 reported.  State troopers, local officials, the state Health and Agriculture departments, and the Liquor Control Board are all helping to enforce this order.  Violators will be subject to fines or imprisonment.  

New York City Councilmember Carlos Menchaca called for a city-wide suspension on construction work, tweeting, “We are putting workers in danger.”  Brad Lander, the Council’s deputy leader for policy, tweeted his support for construction on medical facilities, but not for other projects. He posted, “It is essential right now to build new hospital capacity...It is NOT essential right now to build new condos.”

And internationally, different countries and regions are taking their own approaches, either halting construction or having projects continue.  BBC News reports, “Italy, which is under a strict lockdown, says employees including builders can continue to go to work if their jobs cannot be done at home.”  Meanwhile, Scotland First Minister Nicola Sturgeon said building sites “should close for the period of the efforts to combat this virus.”

Others are putting precautions in place and continuing to work.  The Los Angeles Times reported, “Government officials are scrambling to house the homeless amid the pandemic.  Low-income residents who live in overcrowded apartments will find it more difficult to maintain distance if someone they live with falls ill.”  Dan Dunmoyer, president of the California Building Industry Association shared another reason construction projects should continue, stating, “You can’t shelter in place with no shelter.”

“I am entirely supportive of the need to continue to build during this time period,” said Assemblyman David Chiu.  “The construction industry is adapting to the new normal and figuring out how to build the shelters, navigation centers, affordable housing and other types of housing that we need.  We can’t slow down.”

While many workers on construction jobs are already six or more feet apart, extra precautions are being implemented.  Ron Miller, executive secretary of the Los Angeles/Orange Counties Building and Construction Trades Council, explained that more hand-washing stations are being added and extra cleaning of construction sites is a priority.

Similarly, Plaza Construction, a New York-based general contractor and project management firm active in South Florida, has not shut down job sites or reduced their workforce.  With construction started on multiple projects in both New York and South Florida, they have instead enacted guidelines that include a social distancing plan.  

The Plaza spokesperson shared that two-week rotations for work crews are being established by project managers and project superintendents.  In the memo to their clients, partners, and employees, they state, “This plan allows for our employees to work remotely using technology platforms that have been built to support remote accessibility and mobility...Our teams will be joining all meetings via phone and video conferencing, and will remain available to answer any questions or concerns as required.”  

The Real Deal, South Florida Real Estate News, reported that, “Skanska USA, a national construction firm that does institutional projects in South Florida, said the firm has also implemented a social distancing plan by postponing non-essential business meetings and events.”  COVID-19 coordination response teams have also been created everywhere Skanska has projects. “These teams are tasked with monitoring this evolving situation, sharing information, implementing protocols, reducing exposure to the virus, and supporting our teams and operations,” according to the Skanska spokesperson. 

The coronavirus pandemic is forcing companies to alter their normal operations.  Building development departments are adjusting to online and mail-in permits and virtual inspections, construction companies are adapting their operations and implementing sanitation and social distancing protocols, and some cities are stopping all construction projects.  As this continues, many are debating whether construction is an essential or nonessential industry right now.

Read part three to learn more about essential and nonessential businesses and what this means for construction. If you missed part one, you can find it here. 



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