Share this article

print logo

Contractors struggle as customers cancel, delay projects

Local contractors are feeling the pinch from the coronavirus pandemic.

Ontario Specialty Contracting and Lamparelli Construction Co. have had projects put on hold.

Erie County Medical Center put the kibosh on all construction work except for its new emergency department, hitting Frank Ciminelli II's firm, Arc Building Partners.

Air conditioning maintenance is being delayed by clients of Warm & Fuzzy Heating and Home Cooling. And phone calls have stopped for Domenic Cortese's home improvement company.

Activity hasn't come to a halt, but area businesses say they have seen some of their core business dry up, as worried customers cancel or delay projects that aren't urgent.

The contractors say they're still flush with workers to get their jobs done, although they're taking extra precautions to spread out laborers on job sites, wear gloves, and disinfect as often as possible.

"It’s been pretty much business as usual on the production side of construction," said Angelo Natale, owner of Natale Builders and Natale Development. "I have noticed less handshakes though."

But both consumers and businesses are starting to pull back on their plans either out of health concerns or Gov. Andrew Cuomo's executive order directing nonessential businesses to close.

As the reins tighten to try to contain the spread of Covid-19, contractors are getting worried.

"It will simply disrupt the flow of our work," said Ciminelli, CEO of Arc Building Partners. "Construction is an industry that relies on rhythm to be effective. However necessary the measures may be, we’ll never be able to truly measure the adverse impacts this has on our work."

Early last week, the Associated General Contractors of America warned that shutting down construction projects – which was already happening in other parts of the country – was "an unnecessary step" that would hurt the economy and undermine the ongoing recovery.

Yet by week's end, the group found that the pandemic had prompted project owners or government officials to direct more than one of every four contractors to halt or delay work on an active project or one that was about to start – threatening to reverse what was a strong job market for construction across the country through January.

“The coronavirus pandemic has the potential to undermine what had been a very robust construction market, threatening the livelihood of countless workers and the viability of many firms,” said Ken Simonson, AGC's chief economist.

Paul Lamparelli said his firm had a $1.5 million job scheduled to begin in August, but it's now been put on hold and possibly canceled due to layoffs at the customer. None of the other jobs for Lamparelli Construction Co. have been shut down at this point, he said, as they already have bank loans on them.

"They have to finish these projects. They can't just stop in the middle," he said.

But he still had to lay off six people last week "so we can make it through the hard times here."

"They’re saying contractors are exempt," he said. "But I think it’s a fine line, trying to figure out exactly what that means."

Jon Williams, owner of demolition and remediation firm Ontario Specialty Contracting, said his company had a government project shut down last week in Seattle, which was the initial epicenter of the pandemic in the United States.

The firm continues working on other construction and remediation sites, but he said the company has "instituted strict screening of employees twice a day and questionnaires for any new individuals who need access to the site."

Similarly, Ciminelli's Arc Building Partners had a project in Bergen County in New Jersey that was suspended last week by government order. Arc was also doing work throughout Erie County Medical Center, but the hospital suspended construction work on all but the new emergency department, Ciminelli said.

The company also had two larger hospitality projects out of town, but one that is already underway is now being slowed to conserve cash, while the other that was slated to start in the second quarter is on hold, Ciminelli said.

"We have had several projects in health care suspended for now," Ciminelli said. "Our work in the hospitality sector has been put on hold as that industry has been decimated."

Meanwhile, where work is continuing, life on the job is different, as major contractors like Arc, Turner Construction Co. and Gilbane Building Co. make changes in how they operate. That inevitably affects smaller and more specialized subcontractors.

For example, the once-a-week project meeting in the office trailer, with all the lead people from various trades, is "a thing of the past," said Michael Modrzynski, president of Allied Mechanical.

"If you need to talk to the general construction superintendent, you knock on the door, and he comes outside and you have that conversation at a safe distance," Modrzynski said.

Turner broke up traditional "morning huddles" to smaller groups, and dispersed lunch and break areas, said Steve Perrigo, vice president and deputy operations manager for the firm in Buffalo. "It is a fluid situation and we are having meetings daily to adjust as needed."

The slowdown isn't limited to large construction projects, nor to commercial customers. Cortese, president of home improvement company Cortese Construction Services Corp., said customers have lost confidence.

"Nobody wants anything started, and our phone has stopped ringing for new work,"  said Cortese, whose 45-person company specializes in kitchen and bath renovations and small repairs.

"We're still at full staff, and we haven't been affected at all internally by the virus. But anything new, as far as customers calling for new estimates, that's pretty much ceased."

Routine maintenance is also impacted. Allied Mechanical's residential division, Warm & Fuzzy, has found consumers with nonemergency work are "holding off because they don't know what's going to happen."

"But the emergency service is still dealt with in real time," he added.

Story topics: / / / /

There are no comments - be the first to comment