Marianne Schaefer in Bricks & Bucks on April 1, 2020
On March 27, Gov. Andrew Cuomo issued a ban on all non-essential construction projects during the coronavirus pandemic. Work on roads, bridges, hospitals, homeless shelters and affordable housing was declared essential and exempt from the ban. On March 30, the city’s Department of Buildings (DOB) further clarified the ban, stating that any construction project that might “severely affect the life, health or safety of a significant number of persons” is exempt and may continue until it is safe to shut down the site.
When in doubt, or if a building needs to get a waiver, submit a request at www.nyc.gov/dobnow.
The DOB further demands that any construction site that has been halted due to the coronavirus emergency order must be “properly secured and maintained at all times.” Co-op and condo boards and their property managers are also required to document that their sites are safe. The DOB ordered weekly safety inspections of the site by the owner or an individual designated by the owner. Accurate logs of each of these required safety inspections must be kept at the site at all times. All public sidewalks and walkways adjacent to the sites must be maintained in a safe condition. All garbage, debris, and standing water must be removed from the site, and all construction materials and equipment must be safely stored.
One of the challenges this ban poses is how to deal with ongoing facade work mandated by the Facade Inspection and Safety Program, or Local Law 11. “We just try to secure any open site on facades,” says Eric Cowley, principal at Cowley Engineering. “If we have open areas they’re going to be closed up, and that’s it. The problem is that’s only possible if we get permission from the building. We need permission to access the exterior or to use the elevator to go up. Otherwise, there is nothing we can do. Property managers now tell us not to go to buildings any more, and they will not let any workers in.”
The other hurdle boards and management are facing is getting workers who are willing to come to a site, no matter how essential the work might be. The new rules demand that when essential work takes place, workers must practice social distancing. “As an employer,” Cowley says, “the contractors are extremely reluctant to ask workers to go out, because if a person gets sick, then there is a liability. It’s not practical to send out just one person. I hear from all my peers that they’re pretty much experiencing the same thing. We’re also finding that the contractors’ crews are not interested in working, because they’re fearful they’ll spread the virus among themselves. Luckily, we haven’t gotten any calls to come fix an active leak, but it’s a problem we anticipate.”
Though construction work is allowed to continue at affordable housing developments, Co-op City, a 15,372-unit Mitchell Lama in the Bronx, shut down all of its $150 million worth of capital projects, including facade repairs and the massive job of replacing 160 elevators.
On April 1, the DOB issued a “dispensation,” categorizing all elevator replacement jobs already under way as essential, according to Stirling Collins, senior vice president at Champion Elevator, the contractor at Co-op City. The work will be allowed to continue to completion. New elevator jobs cannot be started during the pandemic.
“For us, it’s most relevant that any workers would be at least six feet away from our residents,” says Bob Klehammer, Co-op City’s property manager and vice president at Douglas Elliman. “Before we shut it all down, we were getting complaints from the residents that they had people on scaffolds outside their windows or their balconies. It’s very difficult right now to keep the community calm, because as of March 30th, we have five residents who have died of the coronavirus, two in their apartments and three in the hospital. There is a lot of concern in the community.”
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