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To build or not to build: That is the question facing contractors

By Steve Krause | April 3, 2020

Gov. Charlie Baker has not issued a moratorium on building and construction projects in Massachusetts. And until he does, most local contractors say they are going to keep doing what they’re doing.

However, one major project in Lynn has been suspended for at least a month. Building on the new YMCA, adjacent to the current one on Neptune Boulevard, will cease until at least May 4, per request of  Campanelli Construction of Braintree, the contractor for the project, YMCA Metro North CEO Kathleen Walsh said Thursday.  

Tuesday, the Massachusetts Building Trades Council — a 75,000-member union — asked builders in the state to suspend all construction until the COVID-19 virus crisis has passed. And last month, Boston Mayor Marty Walsh asked for a complete ban on building within the city.

“The safety and health of construction workers and all residents of Boston is my first priority … Boston must do everything in its power to flatten the curve, and stop the spread of coronavirus,” he said.

Walsh agrees — even if it means delaying the completion of the building.

“We understand the ramifications,” she said in agreeing “a construction site can be a petri dish. The priority now is to flatten the curve. 

“Tons and tons of sacrifices have to be made,” she said. “The last thing anyone wants is to be responsible for a bigger outbreak of COVID-19. I hope we can pick up where we left off in May.”

Procopio Construction is proceeding as planned with an $80 million,10-story condominium project on Munroe Street in Lynn, and believes he and his company have taken every precaution they can to ensure the safety of their workers. The list of safeguards is two pages long, and involves everything from setting up at the beginning of the day to breaking down at the end.

“We are taking extreme measures to conform to the governor’s latest round of guidelines,” Procopio said, “including on-site nurses, temperature checks … as well as prohibiting carpools.”

Others are also following Baker’s directives.

“Right now, we’re going by what the governor says,” Patrick Di Iulis of Di Iulis Brothers Construction in Lynn, who is working on both the St. Mary’s and the Boys & Girls Club of Lynn renovations.

“If we had to stop doing those projects, the ripple effects would be devastating,” he said. “That would mean those buildings would not be ready for the students come the fall.”

The issue in Saugus with construction of the high school is similar.

“We still have some odds and ends to tie up and the plan was to move the kids into the new school during April vacation, but obviously, everything has changed,” said Tommy Whittredge, chair of the Saugus School Committee.

“Construction is ongoing as planned, but there has been some controversy in town with residents and some elected officials who think it should be shut down. 

“The project is considered essential as we have a timetable to keep,” Whittredge said. If construction stops, deadlines are missed and that costs money. The state does not want to lose money and until we all know where this is going, we’re not making any decisions except to keep working. There are a lot of moving parts to any decision, that’s for sure.”

The same goes for Brian Hannon, who has been building houses on Summer Street in Lynnfield.

“We are paying attention to what the governor says,” said Hannon. “We’re super sensitive to what’s going on. We are super sensitive to safety measures such as social distancing.”

One contractor who is involved with two major projects is Meninno Construction of Lynn. One of those projects is the renovation of the old Marian Court College into the White Court condominium project on Little’s Point in Swampscott. The other is a major rehab of the Woburn Mall.

“We want to hear (directives on building) from our state government,” said Nick Meninno. “We have protocols for guidelines that have been set up and distributed. If those are modified or changed, then certainly we will abide by those.”

As recently as last week, Baker said that building and construction is essential work, and Meninno feels that the governor’s directive should stand. 

Meninno said the business works hard to ensure the safety of its workers, and the public. Crews are separated. He makes sure only one subcontractor is on a site at a time.

“In other words, we have a day for the plumber, another day for the electrician, another day or HVAC.

“We’re asking our subs to adhere to a strict schedule.”

Like Procopio, Meninno has instituted protocols with workers and subcontractors that involve wiping down and disinfecting hot spots such as door knobs and switches.

Also, “we use port-a-johns, but instead of relying on hand sanitizer, we have built warm-water wash stations at all our sites.”

These sites are inside open sheds, and have a sink, running water, and an electric heater that allows the workers to wash their hands with antibacterial soap and hot water, and use hand sanitizer afterward. 

Meninno said he’s not concerned about the extra cost of providing the personal protective equipment to his sites.

“Money right now is not an issue,” he said. “Most of our employees have been with us 20, 30 and 40 years. Far and away their safety comes first.”

Contractor Patrick McGrath says most of his major projects are in abeyance because Lynn City Hall is closed during the pandemic.

“All my stuff’s still in the permit process,” he said. “But we want to keep the process going. 

“This is going to kill us,” he said. “Our project at the Porthole is something we’re working on through the state. The governor says he’s going to keep the permitting going forward, and as it stands now, it’s going to take six to eight months. If you lose time, it’s going to be longer.”

Staying Safe at the Construction Site 

The following are guidelines instituted the Procopio Companies for construction of the $80 million condominium site on Munroe Street in Lynn:

General COVID-19 Policies and Procedures

Workers should avoid touching anyone else — this includes hand shaking, fist bumps, etc.
Site signage will be placed throughout the project to remind workers of these rules and practices.

Pre-start Self-Certification Procedure

Prior to the start of work each day, before allowing crews onsite, the Foreman shall:
Meet with each worker and complete the Pre-Start Self-Certification Questionnaire
Enter the site through one of the (3) tents where a medical professional will take the temperature of each worker in a private area.
Foremen will take a picture of the completed Questionnaire form and send it to the COVID-19 Officer
Any worker who answers yes to any question or refuses to self-certify will be removed from the project. Prior to returning to the project, the worker must provide a return to work notice from a medical professional.

Project PPE (personal protective equipment) Requirements

Anyone on the project shall don the following PPE at ALL TIMES: Hardhats, Safety glasses, cut resistant gloves or equivalent, and work boots.
Subcontractors must assess their work activities for other PPE requirements that may be required per OSHA requirements.
PPE must be cleaned and maintained per manufacturer requirements
Subcontractors must provide their workers with training as necessary for PPE requirement per OSHA regulations.

Social Distancing Policy

There will be no meetings held in the job trailer or office. These locations are for authorized personnel only.
Site Safety Orientations will be conducted outside or in large areas where 6 feet can be maintained.
Subcontractors will hold their toolbox talks outside or in large areas so that 6 feet can be maintained between their crew.
Project Teams will be working with subcontractors to practice Social Distancing throughout the project. In no event will more than 10 people be permitted to work in any one area. Foremen should communicate with the Superintendent when sequencing issues arise.
Where Social Distancing is infeasible due to the task, the Subcontractor shall establish a procedure to inform their workers of the tasks they deem infeasible, provide them with PPE (face mask, safety glasses, and gloves), and require them to don the PPE during the task.
If PPE is not used or cannot be provided, the task shall not take place.

Carpooling

Carpooling is not permitted. If workers are observed coming to the project in the same vehicle as others, they will not be permitted on site.

Wash Stations

Hand washing stations have been established and provided with soap, towels, and signage for how to properly wash hands on level 1 behind the hoist platform.
Hand sanitizers are located in the stairwells, to be used throughout the day.
Subcontractors should also provide their workers with supplies to clean their hands on a regular basis.

Job Site Cleaning and Disinfecting Procedures

(2) Dedicated labors are onsite full time cleaning and disinfecting all high contact and high traffic areas throughout the project, bathrooms, and field offices at least twice per day including the following areas:

Job Offices

Dellbrook JKS field office will be cleaned daily.

High Contact Areas

High contact areas mean; door handles, stair railings, temp stair railings, hoist interior, hoist call boxes, etc.
If subcontractors are sharing tools or other equipment, they are responsible for cleaning it prior to another person using it.

Bathrooms

All portable bathrooms are serviced by United Site Services every Tuesday and Friday including refilling the hand sanitizer in the units, handles wiped daily by onsite labor.

Site Equipment and Vehicles

Operators of equipment (Lull) and vehicles shall wipe down all interior and door handles if  they were not the last person in the equipment.