Lehigh Valley Construction Companies Resume Activity

By Colin McEvoy on May 11, 2020

A new facility under development by J.G. Petrucci Company Inc. for EcoTech Marine at Lehigh Valley Industrial Park VII. (photo courtesy J.G. Petrucci)

When Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf announced that construction activity in the state could resume at the beginning of this month, Lehigh Valley contractors were ready.

Many of the region’s major construction firms had already been continuing to work on projects deemed essential during the state’s shutdown directive, and were largely prepared to resume their other projects once Wolf lifted the shutdown order on construction work effective May 1.

“Our Pennsylvania operations are moving forward with minimal hiccups,” said Joe Petrucci, Project Manager with Iron Hill Construction Management. “It will take time to adjust to new on-site safety precautions, but everyone has been proactive and is taking these measures seriously.”

About 6.2 million square feet of industrial space had been under construction across the entire Lehigh Valley region before the coronavirus pandemic, according to the Lehigh Valley Economic Development Corporation (LVEDC).

Many of Lehigh Valley’s construction firms were able to keep jobs going throughout the duration of the shutdown because some projects were deemed essential by the Commonwealth and others received waivers to allow work to continue.

More than half of Alvin H. Butz, Inc.’s projects never stopped because they were deemed essential, according to company President & CEO Greg L. Butz, including work for a radiology oncology lab for the Lehigh Valley Health Network (LVHN).

Iron Hill had continued work on several essential projects during the shutdown period as well, and Boyle Construction had continued work on five healthcare projects during part of the shutdown, including projects for both LVHN and the St. Luke’s University Health Network.

Some firms were able to resume construction on non-essential projects as soon as Wolf’s shutdown order was lifted. Petrucci and Butz said the advance notice provided by the governor was sufficient that they could resume the majority of projects on May 1.

Other firms took a phased approach. Out of 35 total projects for Boyle Construction, about 40% resumed during the first week as the company worked on monitoring and refining safety protocols. Another 40% were resumed in the second week, and all remaining projects will be back by the end of this week, according to company President Sean Boyle.

“The only reason we didn’t do it all at one time is because we’re getting used to this new normal that we have,” Boyle said. “I’d say it was a fairly smooth process because we were prepared, but it takes some getting used to.”

Butz said the firm has seen delays on projects that had not been granted initial waivers, and even on jobs that were permitted to continue due to some subcontractors who were hesitant to get back on site.

Petrucci said Iron Hill’s projects have not seen major delays, but that productivity is probably not at full strength yet, and that the recalibration of supply chains has caused complications.

“That being said, it’s only week one and I don’t think anyone fully understands the impact that the past two months will have on business going forward,” Petrucci said. “There are more questions than answers right now.”

While the pace of resuming activity varied among Lehigh Valley construction firms, all were united when it came to taking measures to protect their workers.

Prior to starting up all sites, Butz developed project-specific protocols based upon federal and state guidelines and independent research, and the company has been educating its workers about best practices to stay safe onsite. These include washing hands, no face touching, physical distancing, and leaving the site immediately if they feel sick.

Boyle Construction has developed processes and plans for each individual project, and every superintendent has a checklist to ensure safety measures are being followed each day. The firm has also prepared COVID-19 supply packages for each project, which includes thermometers, handwashing stations, sanitizer, and other safety resources for workers.

In addition to the state’s construction industry guidance, Iron Hill has implemented a daily health check report for all personnel on site, and each worker gets their temperature taken first thing in the morning, Petrucci said.

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