Coronavirus Shutdown Order Puts Construction On Hold Across The State

Washington state construction - Washington State Dept of Transportation - licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

On March 26, Gov. Jay Inslee’s first order requiring all nonessential workers to stay home for two weeks took effect. The memorandum clarifies that nearly all construction is nonessential. However, there are exceptions made for development related to essential activities such as healthcare, transportation, energy, defense and critical manufacturing “to further a public purpose related to a public entity,” including publicly financed low-income housing.

Due to some of these distinctions, the $930 million renovation of KeyArena will continue as well as the $1.8 billion expansion of the Washington State Convention Center.

In Washington, residential construction alone typically contributes $23 million to the economy every day. “That’s a huge hit. That’s jobs, that’s families, that’s food on the table,” said Avaly Scarpelli, executive director of the Building Industry Association of Clark County. The BIA currently represents builders and construction companies that employ 16,000 workers.

Top member concerns from the BIA include being unable to finish pre-sold houses to customers who need to close by a specific date, cash flow due to missing milestones, being unable to protect sites from the elements or vandalism and theft, being unable to complete enough projects to minimize public safety concerns and the impact of their economic position on buyer’s confidence and project schedules.

Inslee announced a new $5 million Working Washington Small Business Emergency Grant program to assist small businesses impacted by the COVID-19 outbreak. The grant program will provide a limited number of companies in Washington’s 39 counties with a grant up to $10,000.

The Stay Home, Stay Healthy order has since been extended until May 4. On Wednesday, Inslee spelled out the conditions for beginning to revive the state economy as six statewide labor and business organizations presented him with a detailed approach for the construction industry. To lift restrictions, he said the state needs to increase testing to track potential cases; bolster efforts to protect the most vulnerable from infection; ensure hospital capacity exists to handle surges; and ensure social distancing at schools, businesses, and other gathering spots are followed.

Testing is a linchpin of decision-making during this pandemic, and the current lack of widespread testing prevents the state from knowing what percentage of the population is infected.

Meanwhile, developers, contractors and construction workers delivered a letter to the governor on Tuesday, suggesting that residential and commercial projects underway before the stay-home order should be allowed to start up again. The group also recommended protocols including requiring contractors to develop and post at each job site a comprehensive COVID-19 exposure control, mitigation, and recovery plan. This would cover maintaining social distancing on-site, use of personal protective equipment, symptom monitoring and decontamination should a worker test positive.

The letter is signed by the Washington State Building and Construction Trades Council, Pacific Northwest Regional Council of Carpenters, International Union of Operating Engineers Local 302, Association of General Contractors, Building Industry Association of Washington and Association of Washington Business.