News Flash

Wright County News

Posted on: April 17, 2020

Construction Projects Proceeding Through COVID-19 Pandemic

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 workspace.

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 communication open.”

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 task.

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 on.

“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.”

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