Sean Thouvenot, of Branco Enterprises Inc., updated the St. James Board of Education on how the COVID-19 pandemic is affecting construction projects at the high and elementary schools. The biggest challenge, he said during the April 16 board meeting, is suppliers struggling to keep up with demand.
“Right now, we don’t know what the final outcome is going to be. With several factories shutting down due to this, the impact to the shipment of materials hasn’t hit yet, but we get letters daily from, like, light fixture people,” Thouvenot explained. “If you had a six-week lead time, now, triple that. If your stuff was sitting on the line, double that.”
He said Branco has already experienced a shortage of paint at one of their other sites due to the closure of a Sherman Williams plant in Kansas City and he expects St. James to experience similar problems as businesses are limited due to social-distancing protocols or cities restricting businesses with local government orders.
“So far, none of that has hit us at this project, but we’re not at a finishing stage by any stretch,” he said. “The worst of it on supply will probably be hit this fall. We’ve instructed our (subcontractors) to get in line if they haven’t already. That is the good thing about stored materials. A lot of architects don’t like them, but we do because a lot of our materials are on site or are being stored in a warehouse in our contractor’s place.”
Thouvenot said construction is continuing through the pandemic, with workers taking necessary precautions, sanitizing regularly, and following Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) guidelines.
“The whole stay-at-home thing went well for the first week or two, but yesterday and today, you could never tell there was a stay-at-home order. I mean, people are sick of it and are getting out and whatever,” he said. “We have to follow the CDC guidelines or we get in trouble, expose ourselves to all kinds of liabilities whether we agree with it or not.”
To comply, Branco has taken several steps on the job sites to help workers maintain the proper precautions and are spreading workers throughout the sites to help with distancing. “We’ve put in hand-wash stations, sanitizing methods, means for the guys to clean their tools down several times a day. We’ve limited the areas to groups of less than 10, maintaining social distancing, just everything we’ve got to do,” he said. “It’s all going to have a price at some point, but we don’t know how much that price is going to be just yet.”
So far, the end date for completion on the Early Childhood Center near the elementary school is still scheduled for before the beginning of the next school year. Thouvenot told the board he believed it could be completed by July. The high school and performing arts center will take a while longer and “will be hit the hardest because we can’t bunch people up,” he said.
“Other than that, we don’t know what it is until it hits us. We just hope this thing kind of goes away. We don’t want to do something foolishly where people get sick, but we just want this thing to go away,” Thouvenot said. He said some of the job sites Branco is currently working on has employees getting temperature readings as they come and go to the job site, but that has not been necessary in St. James, yet.
The projects are still progressing quickly, with the Early Childhood Center being fully enclosed and brick work on the exterior mostly completed. Work has turned to the interior of the facility and will continue over the next few months.
High school work has included roof installation near the oldest section of the building as well as the outer edge on the south side where the performing arts center will be constructed. The outer wall foundation is currently being installed, marking where the entrance to the facility will be.