Of the numerous concerns
related to COVID-19 that have impacted Wright County, one aspect that has been
critical to keeping the economy moving has been the construction industry being
deemed essential and allowed to continue.
Currently, Wright County has
three major building construction projects going on simultaneously – the late
stages of the Justice Center and Tactical Training Center and the middle stages
of the new Government Center.
There have been some minor
hiccups along the way with some subcontractors expressing concerns, but, for
the most part, social distancing hasn’t been an issue and the projects have
been able to move forward.
But, when there are projects
that are more fluid in nature – in Wright County that translates road
construction projects and parks projects – the ability to control the work
environment changes because they’re always on the move and not in a static
Wright County Highway
Engineer Virgil Hawkins said that, while there haven’t been any
COVID-19-related work stoppages, it’s something that has become part of bid
packages and part of the standard discussion.
“It’s been a topic of
conversation we’ve had with contractors that we have contracts with,” Hawkins
said. “We’ve had pre-construction meetings already. So far, it hasn’t been an
issue with any of their subcontractors and our staff because they’re all
considered essential according to the guidelines. It hasn’t been an issue yet
in any way, but there’s that potential, so we’re keeping the lines of
The biggest concern is that,
with many of these projects, subcontractors come and go from a worksite. The
crew doing the initial groundwork is long since gone when the shell of the
building goes up or the masonry or glass work is being done. Certain jobs need
to be completed before the next subcontractor can come in to do its assigned
Hawkins said it hasn’t been
an issue yet, but the fear is that some of the aspects of construction projects
beyond the scope of the contractors could cause an issue at some point.
“There could be something
that could cause a domino effect,” Hawkins said. “Say there are private
utilities that need to get relocated. They’re not part of anybody’s contract.
What if a private utility says, ‘We’re shutting down. We’re not moving our
lines out of the way.’ That could have impacts on everything. A supply chain of
materials that need to come from another state potentially, if that supply
chain gets interrupted, could cause delays. That hasn’t happened, but we’re
aware of it as a possibility.”
Wright County Parks &
Recreation Director Marc Mattice has a couple of big projects that are currently
in the startup phase. Both bid packages were approved under the cloud of
COVID-19 and it has become part of the bidding protocol to have a plan in place
to cover contingencies.
“We’ve had conversations with
each of our general contractors that they have some type of plan dealing with
COVID-19 in place and how they are going to get the contract accomplished
through their subcontractors,” Mattice said. “As long as they have their plans
in place, I’m not going to micromanage their plans. They all know what is
expected and that commercial projects are deemed essential.”
Like Hawkins, Mattice is
trying to get ahead of potential future impacts and scenarios that might take
place to be assured that, as much as will be possible, the construction will go
“You could have one of your subcontractors
say, ‘My whole shop got infected and we can’t be doing anything for 14 days,’”
Mattice said. “That’s where your general contractor uses the COVID-19 plan.
Most of that work can be spread out and, if a subcontractor can’t go the work,
you either work around it while they’re gone or you find a replacement crew to
do the work from another subcontractor.”
As of now, Wright County has
several ongoing projects and more on the horizon that are on timeline
schedules. With safe practices and social distancing protocols, all of the
projects are currently going on uninterrupted and on schedule.
However, as we’ve all learned
over the past two months, plans are subject to change and revision at any time
and, almost by force, everyone has to stay tuned to see if the current plan
stays in place and how long it will remain the same.
“We’re treading new waters
here,” Hawkins said. “What we think we have now could change in a week or a
month or in the middle of summer. This is something we’ve never dealt with
before, so we’re trying to stay on top of everything we can that is within our
power to keep these projects working as scheduled.”