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Is Chicago's Record-Setting Warm Weather Expediting Construction Timelines? Not Exactly

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Builtech Services president Chris Noon (right)

The Farmers' Almanac was wrong. What was supposed to have been another deep freeze winter in the Windy City has instead set several records for warmth. Chicago recorded no measurable snow on the ground in January and February, the first time that has happened since weather records were first kept. The city has gone 73 straight days (and counting) without recording at least an inch of snowfall. The first 16 days of February 2017 included a record stretch of highs in the upper 60s and low 70s.

With all this warmth, it stands to reason that construction projects across the city are finding it easier to build, and delivery timelines are being expedited. Well, yes and no.

Builtech Services president Chris Noon said the warm weather has been great from a vertical perspective. Whether a construction project is steel or frame, crews are moving briskly building the skeletons. But the lack of snow has resulted in some unforeseen complications.

Noon said Builtech crews have been inundating the subbases of projects with water to compensate for a lack of snow, which typically slowly melts and moisturizes them. The subbase serves as the foundation of a pavement structure and provides drainage and frost protection and a barrier between asphalt and roads. The problem: After Builtech manually moisturized the subbases, Chicago got hit with rainfall, saturating between six and 18 inches of subbase, depending on the project. That will cause headaches for developers five to six weeks from now, when asphalt plants open and crews are ready to lay roads and curbs.

A lack of sunshine in April will leave these subbases still saturated and unsteady. Developers will have two options, both of them expensive: either dry the subbase through artificial means; or truck all that saturated subbase off-site and replace it with dry materials like stone. It is a hard choice for developers who see their buildings rising in the air, but have to consider the overall costs of construction.

McHugh Construction SVP Mike Meagher

McHugh Construction senior vice president Mike Meagher said the warm weather has been a blessing. McHugh allocates a set number of bad weather days into its projects, and Meagher said it probably used one or two of those days, at most, this winter for high winds. The mild winter has been a blessing to snow removal costs, allowing the money saved there to be reallocated to other aspects of ongoing projects.

As for whether the weather has expedited the timelines of McHugh projects, Meagher said there is a trickle-down effect. Saving a few days on a project like Vista Tower is negligible, at best, since a project that large is expected to be completed more than two years from now. In the short term, though, the warm winter is affecting all trades, allowing buildings to rise higher, faster.