When the pandemic hit, Peoria city officials were concerned how it would impact construction throughout the city.
Development and Engineering Director Adina Lund said there were concerns ranging from labor shortages if too many construction workers got sick or chose to stay home because of the coronavirus, to concerns of projects needing to be shut down due to COVID-19 outbreaks, and concerns on material shortages due to business closures or trucking shortages.
There were some impacts on shipping time frames, but overall delays have not been much of an issue, she said.
“We were very fortunate that the construction industry developed safety plans immediately to assist in screening for COVID when they entered the job sites, limiting site visitors, providing hand washing stations throughout the project site, requiring masks for workers and inspectors, and robust contact tracing,” Ms. Lund said. “None of the city projects experienced a shut down due to COVID.”
Experts say cost for building materials are up, and a survey last month from Engineering News-Record said about 50% of firms struggle to find craft workers amid worker fears of COVID-19 and unemployment supplement.
Ms. Lund said construction costs were increasing before the pandemic because of labor and material shortages.
“These continue to be of interest as we have projects go forward to construction,” she said.
The city council recently approved funding for two neighborhood parks, $1.6 million for Country Meadows in the south and $455,370 Sonoran Mountain Ranch in the north, which had been delayed because of heavy park use at the beginning of the pandemic.
Officials had hoped costs for the projects might go down during the delay, but it only dropped by 1%.
“We were hoping for more but construction is everywhere, trades have been busy through the winter of last year, and materials are in short supply. That has not changed,” she said. “There are a lot of trades that are used to refurbish a park.”
Construction for both parks are planned to begin in January 2021, with Sonoran Mountain Ranch expected to be complete at the end of March 2021 and Country Meadows expected to be complete at the end of May 2021.
Funding requests for the parks were initially planned for council’s consideration in the spring but then the pandemic happened, and the government shut down schools, and parks became very popular gathering spots.
“If you went by a park at that time it was insane. There were people all over, every grass area had people picknicing, playing frisbee, throwing the football. It was the only respite they had,” Ms. Lund said.
“We also had many construction unknowns. In other states, some governments shut down nonessential construction. And we didn’t know if that was going to happen here, so we took a pause [on the parks], and in the summer we revisited those projects.”
In the contracting of the parks, Gilbert-based ForeSite reported that overall Valley labor resources remain constrained, steel up-ticked 6%, and PVC supplies are now impacted by manufacturing impacts from the summer hurricanes.
Competitive bidding of subcontracted trades by ForeSite yielded a low response with costs higher than professionally estimated during the design phase. The company reported bids were low for the projects, stating the scale and niche type of work and a stretched thin labor market as contributing factors, according to city documents.
Ms. Lund said the city has been getting less bids on projects for at least the last 18 months.
“This has been more prevalent on landscaping and parks projects than roadway projects,” Ms. Lund said. “We believe anecdotally that it is just the large number of projects that are out there for city capital projects and new developments that are being constructed throughout the Valley. I do not have any hard statistics, just casual observations from projects.”
Peoria Materials Manager Christine Finney said economic uncertainty will always impact construction costs. She said since the onset of the pandemic, many owners have issued stop notices to contractors, often delaying projects indefinitely. As a result of this uncertainty, contractors end up laying off much of their workforce, she said.
“Labor shortages in the construction industry were a problem before the pandemic, so these new challenges have only added to the instability,” she said. “In order to remain competitive, companies must pay good wages and entice workers away from other companies."
Difficulty obtaining materials is also a factor that drives up prices, Ms. Finney said.
“The construction market relies on a global economy, many materials are obtained offshore. Manufacturers and producers of concrete, steel, etc cannot guarantee steady production or delivery timeframes,” she aid.
Philip Haldiman can be reached at 623-876-3697, firstname.lastname@example.org, or on Twitter @philiphaldiman.