Municipal projects face COVID-triggered delays

Pandemic safety measures expected to impact construction schedules

Tens of millions of dollars worth of City of Red Deer construction and maintenance work could be delayed due to COVID-19.

The city has $180 million worth of projects on the books for 2020.

A multi-year $25-million project to revitalize Riverside Meadows and Fairview neighbourhoods was set to begin, and millions more was set aside for the nuts and bolts maintenance required in any city — road repairs ($12 million) and water utilities ($7 million). The list goes on.

“At this point, we’re uncertain as to how much of that we’re going to be able to get done,” said city manager Allan Seabrooke on Friday.

“A lot of these projects are done by the private sector and many companies are not fully staffed. They’ve had to social distance.

“We may not be able to get the contractors in a timely way like we normally would,” he said. “A lot of these projects may very well get delayed.”

Seabrooke hopes — post-COVID — that the private sector can quickly be put back on the job and construction can surge ahead in what is left of the construction season.

“I guess really the unknown is, how long the (health) restrictions remain in place and how long COVID remains.”

It is likely many projects will be completed in phases as a result of construction time lost.

There will be cost implications as well. Tenders submitted pre-COVID may not work for companies anymore because of additional pandemic-related costs and changes to construction schedules.

Seabrooke said the city will work with companies to make the math work for all.

“We’re going to have to maintain some nimbleness and flexibility with those private sector companies that are going to do projects for us.

“We’re going to try to keep people working as much as we can while balancing out the safety aspect. We certainly don’t expect the private sector to put themself in harm’s way.”

Red Deer County Mayor Jim Wood said they are working with all of their contractors to see how projects can be done while ensuring everyone stays safe.

“Right now, it’s extremely important that work gets done in our community and creates these jobs that are so necessary in a time of unemployment.”

COVID-related safety measures could have an impact on even the most innocuous parts of projects. If companies can’t put five workers in a truck, for instance, then multiple trucks or trips are needed.

If workers can’t share hotel rooms on out-of-town projects, accommodation budgets get a lot higher.

“These are some of the kinds of things our contractors are going to see extra costs on,” said Wood. “And we’re working with those contractors in order to realize those costs are no fault of theirs, but we do want our projects to continue.

“We’re having those conversations with the folks who we have contracts in order to come up with something that’s fair.”

Wood is optimistic the county’s road projects — which are a big part of its $32-million capital budget — will go ahead this year, although there may be contract tweaking necessary.

Fortunately, the engineering work has already been done on most of the work scheduled for this year, leaving most projects “shovel ready.”

Clearwater County has already felt the impact of COVID-19 on its project list.

Council gave staff the green light recently to put out a request for proposals on a new Leslieville fire hall. That project is now on hold.

There simply was no chance the construction engineers and other professionals needed would be available in a physical distancing environment, said Reeve Tim Hoven.

“We’re unable to get any engineers to come out and people are unable to work in groups,” said Hoven this week. “So, we’re going to delay that.

“Hopefully, when things calm down, and things go back to normal, people will be able to work together and we will get back out there.”

The fire hall may be only one of a number of projects that could be delayed or postponed.

Staff are busy assessing all of the planned work and will be bringing a report back to council later this month to update council on how the construction season is expected to pan out.

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