Construction work goes on because it’s an essential business.
Scores of construction workers have kept up their work throughout South Florida with barely a hiccup, though a small handful have shut down while the general public — sheltered in place to slow the spread of the new coronavirus — questions the designation that allows this business to go on.
Florida is one of several states that have exempted the construction business from its shelter-in-place order halting most business activity. Washington state said no to construction. So did New York. Both made exceptions for “essential” projects, including repair work and hospital construction.
California is allowing construction to proceed, though some areas such as San Francisco have stopped many projects.
In Florida, Gov. Ron DeSantis’ order, which took effect April 3, relied heavily on an earlier stay-at-home order imposed in Miami-Dade County. That order specifically listed construction as an essential business. DeSantis also relied on recommendations from the Department of Homeland Security — references to construction are scattered throughout those recommendations.
But even in Miami-Dade, some cities are cracking down, limiting the number and scope of projects that can go forward.
Throughout Broward last week, workers on scores of sites forged ahead, fixing up churches, refacing condominiums, building warehouses, residences and commercial centers, and knocking down abandoned buildings to make way for new business.
“You can’t just stop a building that’s already in mid-construction,” Broward County Vice Mayor Steven Geller. “It will deteriorate. That’s dangerous. If there’s any question, it would be about new construction.”
In Lighthouse Point, the Florida Department of Transportation is continuing work on the Ibis Bridge Replacement Project.
“We are continuing with reroof permits and other essential construction activities,” said Sheila N. Rose, assistant city manager of Coconut Creek. The city suspended inspections for interior improvements for occupied dwellings.
And in Coral Springs, construction continued on warehouses and business offices along Coral Ridge Drive, while partial demolition went on at the site of a Barnes & Noble bookstore that shut down.
“I feel fortunate that I’m still capable of working and earning an income,” said Rudy Kanzler, a demolition specialist working at what used to be the bookstore. Clearing the site, a job that began before the coronavirus scare, was not a task that could be left half-finished, especially considering South Florida’s strong storms and the upcoming hurricane season, Kanzler said.
“This building, in the event of a hurricane emergency, could send out debris that could easily take someone’s life,” he said.
Still, Kanzler said his co-workers are keeping their distance from one another as they go about their tasks. And he said his employers are emphasizing the need to stay safe on the job.
Still, some South Florida residents are worried that the “essential business” exemption can’t go far enough to protect workers or the members of the public they may encounter.
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“‘Is a beautification project considered essential?” asked Matt Greimel, a retired federal agent living at the Residences on Hollywood Beach, where contractors have been refacing balconies and, he says, have not been able to keep more than 6 feet away from one another. “Stucco is not structural. It’s questionable that they should be allowed to be working.”
But it is essential, answered building manager Johnny Cidel. “I wish we could wave a magic wand and say stop work and everything would be OK,” he said. But the $22.5 million project was approved by the condo board and began earlier this year, a requirement for the building’s recertification.
It’s a safety issue for the building and its residents, Cidel said. “Stucco is not why this work is being done. It’s a massive project. It was necessary and it was time.”
A group of 30 South Florida construction companies, under the umbrella of trade groups including Associated Builders and Contractors and the Builders Association of South Florida, issued a joint resolution last week pledging to protect workers and the public at work sites.
The resolution tells workers exhibiting symptoms of COVID-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus, to stay home, a message reinforced on job sites. It also calls for hoists and elevators to be sanitized daily and for employers to bring their lunches from home to avoid congregating at food trucks.
Shutting down construction work is easier said than done, especially for work in progress, said Carol Bowen, chief lobbyist for Associated Builders and Contractors.
Sites would have to be secured and equipment would need to be stored.
In addition, she said, the kind of work that falls under the umbrella of construction projects is broad, and most of it is considered essential on its own: maintenance, repair and plumbing, for example.
“Day to day, there’s a million things that could go wrong that require the attention of some element of the construction industry,” said Bowen. “For contractors and tradesmen, if something breaks, somebody has to be able to fix it.”
There’s an added benefit to keeping construction workers on the job, she said. “Construction is one of the top five economic drivers in the state.”
It’s up to the contractors and site managers to make sure social distancing and other rules are being followed, Bowen said, adding that cities are able to monitor construction sites. In Miami-Dade, she said, some police departments are authorized to inspect and even shut down projects where workers are not in compliance.
Broward law enforcement has the same authority, Geller said.
Construction in Fort Lauderdale is not permitted if the building is already occupied, unless it’s a necessary repair, said Fort Lauderdale city spokesman Chaz Adams. The city lists 19 sites where construction is continuing.
[Workers won’t stop construction despite coronavirus threat. Here’s why.]. (n.d.). Retrieved April 10 2020, from https://www.sun-sentinel.com/coronavirus/fl-ne-coronavirus-construction-workers-20200410-okgqgbimavghlkz6coi74lryka-story.html