Typical building season is underway in valley
On April 25, Gov. Jay Inslee announced plans for a restart of construction work in Washington state. The timing of Inslee’s announcement coincides with the start of building season in the Methow Valley as contractors, eager to restart projects that were temporarily put on hold, can now resume work — albeit with added job site requirements passed down from the governor.
“We are allowing work to resume on construction projects that were underway before our order. This action was informed by workers, contractors, health and safety experts, and local government officials, for safe construction standards,” wrote the governor’s office in a response sent to the Methow Valley News. The re-opening process for the construction industry will be a benchmark for lifting restrictions for other industries and sectors of the economy, the governor’s office said.
Inslee released a Phase 1 Construction Restart plan, which allows for the, “Restart [of] existing construction projects with COVID-19 Safety Plans that allow work which only can be performed meeting social distancing requirements.”
“It’s been a sprint since Friday [April 25],” said Tim Smith, owner of Big Valley Builders. “I was scrambling to get everything initialized, so that we can follow the guidelines as far as working safely.”
“I feel like we’re lucky we got started earlier,” said Smith, who on Monday restarted work on a project after the Construction Restart plan was put into effect. “The minute we knew we could work we got a delivery. It’s going to be interesting to see how we all settle into it this next week.”
Job site rules
Included in the Phase 1 plan is a 30-point requirement list that outlines how contractors must conduct work at job sites in compliance with the re-opening, which includes maintaining 6 feet of distance between workers, a daily log of all workers and visitors, and a site-specific COVID-19 supervisor.
“It’s just going to be lifting and moving stuff that will be hard. It’s going to be hard to keep your tools separate,” said Smith about the added safety protocol he’s now implementing. “We can separate our crews and work in smaller batches. And the concerns aren’t as great when working outside. It’s going to add a bit of cost, and take us a little longer, but I feel if we do our best, we can work safely.”
“They’re just kind of getting rolling again,” said Larry Walsh, owner of Methow Valley Lumber, who, after switching to curbside pick-up only, has now fully reopened his store. “Each day there’s been more contractors coming in.”
“People are happy they can come in and shop again,” said Walsh, who’s working to keep social distancing protocol in effect at the store, as orders from contractors have slowly begun to increase. “They’re placing orders for right now, as well as for two or three days out. There’s been more and more each day.”
Managing projects during the construction restart add a few more complexities to running a job site. Noah Ashford, owner of Noah Constructor LLC, who restarted work on a bathroom remodel on Monday, has scheduled subcontractors to come in, one-by-one, on days when his crew will not be at the job site. He and his crew take lunch separately in their trucks, and communicating with homeowners about projects has shifted.
“If we need to say anything face-to-face, we’ll meet outside and keep a safe distance,” said Ashford. Otherwise, he’s been sending picture messages of the work being done, and has been communicating with the homeowners via text.
Taking it seriously
“I personally take the safety thing a little more seriously. It’s definitely something you have to be thinking about it, [but] I air on the side of being cautious,” said Ashford, who has taken on the role of the site-specific COVID-19 supervisor as he manages the restart of a few projects throughout the valley.
A Phase 1 notice must be posted at each job site for employees, subcontractors and government officials, stating the proposed work that will be done at the job site and a signed commitment to meet the requirements outlined in the Phase 1 Construction Restart requirements list.
“We’re gloved and masked up. If we’re on the same job, were typically in different parts of the room,” said Ashford. “I’m trying to keep it so we’re working on different portions, or in different parts of the room.”
Some of the work naturally lends itself to social distancing, noted Ashford, like moving a 4-by-8-foot sheet of drywall, which can be lifted and moved on its long end, providing an 8-foot buffer between workers.
“Most of my guys are on their projects solo. It’s only them, and at a lot of our job sites the homeowners aren’t anywhere near where we are working,” said Ashford.
Phase 1 is just the beginning of the restart for the construction industry, as Inslee is working on creating a protocol to open more aspects of the industry. And while contractors in the valley begin to return to work, the building season is only just beginning.
“[Work] gets going quicker in the summer. It’s easier to get around and there are more people coming over,” said Ashford. “It will be interesting to see long-term how it will shake out. It seems like the work is still there.”
In Twisp, Blue Star Coffee Roasters is contemplating resumption of its wholesale remodeling of the former Coyote Ridge building on Highway 20, as the company’s new headquarters and roasting facility. Will that project start up again soon?
“Probably, since it was started before the COVID-19 shutdown,’ said co-owner Meg Donohue in an email. “However, I think it’s important to note that we stopped the construction due to the massive contraction of our business, due to the COVID-19 pandemic and its impact on our industry. We made the decision to pause the construction of our new facility as a necessary and responsible business decision, before the governor had declared construction to be ‘non-essential.’ We’ve been working hard with our contractor (Darold Brandenburg) and designer (Sergio Chin-Ley) since mid-March to figure out how to finish the project, and we’re guardedly optimistic that we’ll find a way.”