Construction sector steady despite virus-related hurdles

Vancouver Island’s construction sector is continuing to build — typically with fewer workers on sites — as it focuses on how to face COVID-19-related challenges today and plans for the future.

Mike Miller, chief executive of Abstract Developments, which has close to 10 projects underway, said they recognize the seriousness of the situation and are adapting to ensure the safety of employees.

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At job sites, the company is meeting or exceeding WorkSafeBC standards for safety, he said. Office staff are working remotely, with the senior team meeting daily.

“We are forging ahead,” Miller said.

Some buyers are expecting to move into new homes and need them to be ready on time, Miller said.

About 60 workers were on the job at Abstract’s Bellewood Park project at 2101 Fort St. on Friday, said Kyle Ryan, company operations manager. The 83-unit project features two condominium buildings, plus townhouses.

At Mike Geric Construction, president Ed Geric said construction is set to begin in May or June on its two-building Tresah development on Speed Avenue in the Mayfair area. The company is making an investment of about $80 million in that development, featuring a 12-storey and a six-storey building with approximately 240 units.

The taller building will be a mass timber structure, meaning that it will be using laminated wood, and the six-storey will be wood-framed.

“I would say most, if not all companies are still actively doing work,” said Rory Kulmala, chief executive of the Vancouver Island Construction Association. “Where the difference is — they are doing it with less people.

“They will have people that are at high-risk or they have family members that are at a high-risk, so [those people] are opting to self-isolate.”

Companies have ramped up sanitization procedures, such as hand-cleaning and regular cleaning of tools, and are implementing social-distancing protocols, Kulmala said. “Those kind of strategies go a long way to allowing work to continue. They are mindful of that.”

The current climate requires everyone from owners to main contractors and sub-contractors to work collaboratively in a difficult environment, he said. “We are urging each owner of each project to look at each project independently,” to determine if there’s an ability to keep work going, and at the same time being mindful of personal safety, he said.

The Victoria association’s office is locked, but some people come in for appointments. Many of its staff are working from home, something construction companies’ office staff are doing as well, he said.

While the main issue is labour right now, Kulmala said supply chains could dry up if the outbreak drags on. There is supply in reserve but that may not be the case as time passes, particularly when it comes to fabricated products from Asia, he said.

The B.C. Construction Association is calling on the province to allow for deferred property and payroll tax payments amid the crisis.

Association president Chris Atchison noted that construction contributes just under 10% of provincial gross domestic product, making the sector “absolutely essential” to the economic health of the province. “Having guided our industry through numerous challenges over the past 50 years, we recognize that communication is critical as we work to support our sector during this unprecedented crisis,” he said in a statement.

An association report said the value of ongoing projects in B.C. in 2019 is $114.4 billion.

The association has established a “virtual hotline” for its members seeking assistance and information on everything from the supply chain to contracts. It is also collecting observations to help the industry’s response. Online: bccassn.com.

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