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Construction In Colorado Continues As Sites Close Nationwide

“As long as we keep working safely, we will keep 175,000 people employed and out of the overburdened unemployment system, and help Colorado avoid a deeper slowdown or recession.”

Associated General Contractors of Colorado CEO Michael Gifford believes keeping construction underway in Colorado amid the COVID-19 crisis is important to the economy.

And while work ceases in other parts of the U.S., either voluntarily or by local government mandate, construction in Colorado seems largely untouched, though processes on-site may have changed.

Construction In Colorado Continues As Sites Close Nationwide
Construction vehicles work on excavation.

Colorado Gov. Jared Polis issued an executive order March 22 for Colorado employers to reduce their in-person work forces by 50%, with the exception of essential businesses. Construction is included in that mandate.

“With 175,000 employees in the state, the construction industry is the foundation of our economy in Colorado,” Gifford said, citing employment numbers from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. 

Not all cities and states have the green light for construction to continue. Four states have now banned residential construction: Washington, New York, Pennsylvania and Michigan.

Some counties and cities have gone beyond state orders to shut down construction as well. On Bisnow's Tuesday webinar CRE & Coronavirus: How is COVID-19 Impacting The Mile High City?, Holland Partner Group Managing Director Walter Armer said its developments in Seattle and the Bay Area are at a standstill.

A nationwide survey from AGC conducted March 30 to April 2 revealed that 53% of the nearly 1,300 respondents were directed by a project owner to halt or cancel work on current projects, or ones expected to start in the next 30 days.

Armer said Holland hasn't seen a slowdown on its Colorado development despite its on-site workforce being off about 10%.

There are a few sites that have been shut down in Colorado, Gifford said, but the “vast majority are open.” What’s really impacting the industry right now is the slowdown and suspension of building and fire inspections, he said. 

Meanwhile, alternatives are being implemented, because government agencies aren’t in the office. Skyping, FaceTiming, sending pictures or having inspectors visit at night when sites are empty are different methods construction sites are using to combat the issue, according to Gifford.

Armer said he has been “blown away” by how effective the city of Denver has been with keeping the plan review and inspections processes going. 

Evergreen principal and Regional President Jeff Wikstrom said there has been no slowdown in the two projects Evergreen has under construction in the metro. 

“As Walter mentioned, we've had great support from the city inspectors,” he said.

The Associated General Contractors of America, a construction lobbying group, said construction firms are taking steps to protect their employees still on the job site. In a statement, the Arlington, Virginia-based association said that while it's necessary to understand the need for social distancing, shutting down projects where workers “are already protected” will not help. 

“Instead, it will threaten the livelihood of millions of craft professionals, force many small and family-owned businesses to shut down, and undermine the nation’s ability to respond to natural disasters, including the coronavirus,” the association said in an early March statement. 

Construction sites are not public areas with a dense congregation of people, Gifford said. Typically, workers are spaced out enough, and they are already generally required to wear protective equipment that includes gloves and N95 masks. But during this pandemic, Gifford said construction sites are taking extra precautions to ensure safe conditions. 

The AGC is calling for a nationwide “safety stand down” April 9, where construction firms stop work to reinforce updated procedures and practices to keep workers safe from the coronavirus. 

Gifford said that while the industry is proud to keep moving, it is sympathetic to all of the challenges of industries that aren’t able to function as normally. 

Because many sites have a surplus of supplies, Gifford said the construction industry has been donating its N95 masks to hospitals for healthcare providers and patients in need. 

“A lot of the parts of our industry don’t come top of mind,” he said. “But if a senior home needs their heating system or water system fixed and we’ve already sent the construction industry home, that can’t happen.”