Now that the cold winter months have arrived, some contractors and developers are taking extra precautions in their efforts to prevent the spread of COVID-19.
Construction work has continued on many projects since the pandemic reached Wisconsin this spring. In a June cover story, BizTimes detailed how the industry was affected by the pandemic and the safety protocols that were adopted by contractors and developers.
For some, winter presents a new set of challenges.
Bob Monnat, senior partner at Milwaukee-based developer Mandel Group Inc., said much of the work on job sites shifts indoors for obvious weather-related reasons in the winter.
Workers are put at higher risk of contracting COVID-19 in an enclosed work environment, when they're also likely to be closer together.
"These contractors are doing everything right, but even so there's no guarantee" the virus won't spread, Monnat said.
Mandel has opted not to put up a temporary heated enclosure on its 102-unit Crescent Apartments project in Wauwatosa, Monnat said. The apartments are part of a $36 million mixed-use project southeast of Innovation Drive and Watertown Plank Road, in the Milwaukee County Research Park.
Temporary plastic structures are often installed on buildings that haven't been enclosed by the fall and winter months. This allows temperature-sensitive work, such as concrete masonry, to continue uninterrupted.
Monnat said the thinking behind forgoing the temporary enclosure is that it would add too great a risk for the workers. The spread of infection also has an economic cost.
As the project developer, Mandel pays both for the temporary enclosure and heating the enclosed building. But if the virus spreads to the Crescent Apartment workers and the job site has to be shut down, Mandel would essentially be paying those extra costs to enclose and heat the building when work isn't getting done, he said.
Work on the apartment project is still proceeding, with temperature-dependent jobs occurring when the weather allows, Monnat said.
He said it's customary to shift all work indoors after Thanksgiving. But a year impacted by a global pandemic presents abnormal challenges to Mandel and others in the industry.
"Our conclusion is that this year the normal and customary procedures just don’t fit anymore," Monnat said. "The use of heated temporary enclosure doesn’t fit because I’m worried about it propagating COVID."
Mandel's decision is likely an uncommon one.
Dan Burazin, safety director with the Associated General Contractors of Greater Milwaukee, said he is not aware of any other project in the area that is forgoing temporary enclosures this winter.
Most projects are using temporary enclosures because they have strict timelines to meet, said Russ Pande, vice president of Chicago-based Pepper Construction out of its Milwaukee office.
But Pepper Construction is doing something a bit different with the enclosure on an apartment project in the Green Bay Packers' Titletown district.
Pande said the entire perimeter will be tented to allow masonry, siding, balcony and waterproofing work to continue on schedule. Crews will be spread out over multiple floors to protect them from spread of infection, he said.
For instance, one floor might have a few workers doing an air barrier while another floor will have a small crew of masons, said Pande.
"With this whole COVID scheme that's really what the goal is," Pande said. "We're trying to eliminate workers being on top of each other."
Another key to combating infection is proper air filtration and ventilation, said Pande and Monnat. This better prevents workers from breathing in air that's carrying the disease.
"To turn the air over is one of the biggest things you can do right now," Monnat said.
Of course, contractors are taking the usual preventative measures that have been in place since the start of the pandemic.
Burazin said those measures include everything from regular temperatures checks, to hand washing stations, to social-distancing and face-covering requirements.
"Those have been pretty much in place since March," he said.
Some projects might also be delayed over the winter, opting instead to break ground in the spring, Burazin said.
When feasible, Pepper Construction contracts with third-party firms to monitor workers on job sites to handle things like temperature checks and looking for symptoms, Pande said.
Pepper Construction isn't able to have these third-party firms on all their job sites because there simply isn't enough of them, he said.