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Gov. Evers order lets construction continue, but builders should expect disruption

Gov. Evers order lets construction continue, but builders should expect disruption

Wisconsin Gov. Tony Evers emergency stay-at-home order issued Tuesday allows many construction projects to continue, but it does not mean the building industry will enjoy business as usual throughout the pandemic.

More tradespeople will call in sick to avoid bringing the coronavirus to work and shutting a project down entirely. Projects in more confined locations like interior office space renovations may be shut down voluntarily. Securing government building permits and approvals will also be a different process.

Those experiences all have happened this week in Ohio and Illinois, which on Monday started working under the same stay-at-home rules the Evers administration finalized Tuesday. 

Just because it’s an essential service doesn’t mean we can keep going the way we had been,” said Richard Hobbs, executive vice president of the Associated General Contractors of Ohio.

Permits and inspections are a rising concern in the Milwaukee after the city shut down its center Monday. That raises questions for the nearly $900 million in construction projects underway in downtown Milwaukee alone.

Tracy Johnson, president and CEO of the Commercial Association of Realtors Wisconsin, said she and the Metropolitan Milwaukee Association of Commerce have asked city officials what the closing means to active projects. The association is drafting new lease contract language for members for situations where a tenant can’t move into a space because permitting or other issues hold up projects, she said.

“We’re kind of operating in the unknown on the construction side,” she said. “The materials are in question. People are using those (medical) masks, and now health care needs those masks.”

In Columbus, Ohio, for example, Gov. Mike DeWine let construction work continue, but the city permit center shut down to work remotely. That raised new questions over having inspectors approve work on buildings, for example, Hobbs said.

The city of Chicago is letting contractors send videos and photographs of their work to inspectors to gain permit approvals, said Tom Cuculich, executive director of the Chicagoland AGC. 

“They are accepting it as if they are there, and that has been working,” he said. 

Monday was the first day after Illinois Gov. JB Pritzker enacted his stay-at-home order, which also exempted the construction industry. As in Wisconsin, construction business and labor groups had advocated for that policy.

Cuculich said that on Monday some subcontractors couldn’t perform after too many workers opted to stay home because they felt sick, or had a family member at home with possible COVID-19 symptoms. In limited cases, including renovating tenant spaces in existing buildings, projects were voluntarily shut down to protect workers.

“Some subs did not have enough people to go to work yesterday, but they are back open today,” Cuculich said Tuesday. “The approach has been very measured, very deliberate.”

The onus is on the construction industry to keep their sites safe, Cuculich said. As in Wisconsin, builders in Illinois are adopting new safety measures that include more on-site cleaning. Some companies split workers into two groups, he said. That way, if a builder in one is exposed to COVID-19, the other could continue working.

"I think we have a path forward that can continue,” Cuculich said. “If that path is not taken seriously by the industry, I think government will re-look at these issues.”

Johnson said that in Wisconsin, some companies were also reticent about opening shop even if it is permissible under Evers’ order. 

“We need to empower people to make the best decisions,” she said. “Our group is advocating for be safe, and use your discretion.”

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Source : By Sean Ryan – Reporter, Milwaukee Business Journal Mar 24, 2020, 1:10pm EDT

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