The leader of the first large U.S. city to ban construction because of the coronavirus, Boston Mayor Martin J. Walsh, is considering a plan to gradually resume building. “We’re looking at tentative days to begin construction in a slow ramp up,” Walsh told a virtual meeting of the Greater Boston Chamber of Commerce on April 15.
“We are planning as call in the next few days with contractors about what it would look like when we open construction,” Walsh told group members on a video call, according to a transcript of the meeting provided by the Mayor’s office.
He also noted that any plan depends on the rate of ongoing infections and hospitalizations. Resumption of construction will move ahead cautiously, with Massachusetts entering what state officials say is likely the peak period for coronavirus deaths and infections.
Walsh floated the idea of seeking affidavits from contractors pledging to follow coronavirus safety protocols.
He previously said he would work with unions and contractors to develop those protocols. Such a pledge could include dividing work over two shifts, from 7 a.m. to 3 p.m. and from 3 p.m. to 11 p.m., to keep workers separated. Walsh said he would also consider allowing projects to operate Monday through Saturday, with city approval needed for Sunday work. Before the ban, project teams needed approval to work on weekends.
Walsh noted, however, that Boston’s construction workforce is older than the national average.
“You don’t want to give people false expectations right now,” Walsh told the chamber. “I think it’s gonna be a slow roll back to work.”
Frank Hayes, president of BOND Building Construction Inc. and an industry representative for the Associated General Contractors of Massachusetts, said his company is pleased Walsh is considering a return to construction.
“We do not want to put anyone at risk. We are prepared to follow the guidelines that have been established and are being reviewed to define consistent, industry-wide protocols defining safe work practices. Speaking for BOND and my fellow industry partners, we are ready to implement and execute these protocols to ensure the safety of our teams,” Hayes said in a statement.
The move comes roughly one month after Walsh announced a sweeping ban on construction.
On March 25, he extended his initial ban indefinitely. There were 97 different active construction projects across the city before the ban went into place for a total of more than 21 million sq ft of new or renovated residential, office and commercial space, said the Boston Planning and Development Agency.
Some emergency work has continued with crews having scrambled on April 15 to repair a water main break in the city’s South End that created a large sinkhole that swallowed a car and flooded nearby buildings.
"The safety and health of construction workers and all residents of Boston is my first priority, and I am not willing to put that at risk as the virus spreads throughout our communities," Walsh said when he announced the construction ban.