NYC School Construction Chief Reopens Projects, But Awaits Stimulus Funds
With students and faculty at home during COVID-19, it's an optimal time for work on school construction projects – only if needed federal funding is received in a timely manner, New York City's School Construction Authority president and CEO said May 7.
"This is a good time to get [school] construction done,” Lorraine Grillo said during an online Q&A presented by the New York Building Congress. “But with the current [COVID-19 pandemic], there is a cash flow crisis in the city. If the federal government could come through, we could do exactly that and get things done." The agency awaits federal stimulus funding.
“While it will spur the economy on, it will have real positive effects for the city. We are hoping the feds will come through,” Grillo said.
The $2 trillion federal stimulus package—called the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security, or CARES, Act—was signed into law March 27. It can benefit engineering and construction firms, and their client companies, through provisions for small-business loans and tax breaks.
It was not immediately clear how much stimulus money New York City officials were seeking.
In late March, the Authority "paused" 670 projects, according to agency spokesman Kevin Ortiz. Construction has resumed on five schools so far in the city—projects that total $302 million, he told ENR.
"I haven’t missed an opening day in 10 years, and I don’t intend to start now,” Grillo said, noting that the city needs architects, engineers and designers to “rethink” how its schools and restaurants will look as a result of the virus.
Redesigning safe computer stations and more modern cafeterias that are easy to clean top the agency's innovation priority list, and schools need to reconfigure office spaces as well where employees sit near each other
Beyond schools, Grillo, who also is commissioner of the NYC Dept. of Design and Construction, said another priority was that agency's East Side Coastal Resiliency Project, an estimated $1.5 billion city-federal storm protection effort for lower Manhattan's east side.
“That’s another crisis that could come at any time and we need to protect New York,” she said, adding that the city expected to “start with a shovel in the ground in fall.” That is the third delay for the project, which had been set to start this spring, but officials said the project still is set for completion in five years.
Sewer and water projects in South East Queens also are top concerns, she said.
"Essential" projects that New York state Gov. Andrew Cuomo's executive order allowed to proceed include roads, bridges, transit facilities, utilities, hospitals and health care facilities, affordable housing, homeless shelters, schools and emergency repairs. Non-essential construction is expected to resume May 15 in areas of the state that have met certain criteria, the governor said May 11.