Marianne Schaefer in Bricks & Bucks on June 17, 2020
Though co-ops and condos were allowed to resume their nonessential construction projects on June 8, not all are comfortable doing so. “Some construction opened up, only to close again,” says Eugene Ferrara, president of the engineering firm JMA Consultants. “Residents are afraid when workers are passing by open windows on the scaffolds. They also don’t like workers in the elevators or anywhere inside the building, or using the facilities. Often you cannot even rationalize some of the fears; it’s an emotion.”
At the 180-unit River Terrace co-op in Riverdale, construction has successfully resumed – but not without some initial anxiety and complaints from the residents. Crews are working on the restoration of the concrete columns that support the underside of the building. “We tried to work through the complaints and related the residents’ fears and objections to the contractors,” says property manager Michelle Asnaran of Garthchester Realty. “This is an exterior project, and we implemented guidelines to limit the time when the workers are inside the building. We had them put up a portable toilet so the workers didn’t have to (use restrooms) inside the building. Now the workers only go into the building to access the worksite in the back of the building, taking the service entrance elevator down one level when they arrive and back up one level when they leave at the end of the day.”
In addition, the contractors reassured the residents that the workers would wear masks and gloves and would follow all proper safety procedures. Before the shutdown, there were 12 workers on site, now there are only six. The building staff is also rigorously sanitizing surfaces after all the workers have entered and exited the building.
CTA Architects tried to address residents’ anxiety by sending a message to all the firm’s clients shortly before the reopening, asking them to do some soul searching and determine if they would be comfortable resuming construction. The majority of the 40 projects opted to resume. “Many boards developed special house rules for the workers, and they are very careful,” says Dan Allen, principal at CTA. “For example, the workers have to sign in and have their temperature taken, and then they all go up to the roof or the scaffold in one go and are not coming or going in dribs and drabs throughout the day. Job sites are equipped with portable toilets in the street, hand-washing stations and hand sanitizer.”
Construction sites where crews would have to work inside the building – such as apartment renovations or combinations – are still mostly on hold. “I would not schedule any kind of project right now inside a building,” Asnaran says. “But an exterior project where you can limit the size of the crew and the access to the building and you communicate with the residents, then there is no reason to put off the work.”
In addition to the communication with the residents and special house rules for the workers, boards and management have to make sure that contractors have filed the appropriate paperwork with the state and city. All contractors are required to have the mandatory COVID-19 protection plan in place. “Even though this is their business and the contractor is responsible for the workers, they’re still on your property,” Allen says. “You should check on them to see if they follow the rules. And if they don’t follow the rules, board and management have every right to take action, because they might endanger not just themselves, but also the residents.”
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