Differing virus limits in Vt., NH mean uneven impact on construction projects

  • Deemed essential work by New Hampshire Gov. Chris Sununu during the COVID pandemic, construction continues at Dartmouth College's $200 million expansion of the West End of the campus in Hanover, N.H., on April 22, 2020, where a new 160,000-square-foot Thayer School of Engineering building is underway. (Valley News - Jennifer Hauck) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com. valley news — Jennifer Hauck

  • A worker had disinfected a portable toilet on the job site at Dartmouth College's expansion of the western side of the campus in Hanover, N.H., on April 22, 2020. A 160,000-square-foot Thayer School of Engineering building continues to be constructed during the COVID pandemic. (Valley News - Jennifer Hauck) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com. valley news — Jennifer Hauck

Valley News Staff Writer
Published: 4/22/2020 9:12:16 PM
Modified: 4/22/2020 9:14:08 PM

LEBANON — Travel restrictions placed on Vermont contractors under the state’s stay-at-home order are hampering construction projects in neighboring New Hampshire, which is allowing work on roads and buildings to progress through the coronavirus pandemic.

Some projects, such as the renovation of Lebanon City Hall, will likely be delayed months and could see costs rise, officials warn.

The long-awaited overhaul of Lebanon’s municipal offices was supposed to be wrapped up in September, City Manager Shaun Mulholland said Tuesday.

But South Burlington-based ReArch Co., which is overseeing the project, was forced to step back because of the Vermont restrictions, and the city of Lebanon now predicts a January move-in date.

“I’m anticipating that we’re going to be under these restricted operations until at least July 1, so that’s when work would resume again,” Mulholland said in a phone interview.

“It’s also important to remember that a vaccine to this virus is not projected to be available until sometime in the summer of next year,” he added. “This virus is going to be with us and it’s still going to continue to infect people to one degree to another until a vaccine is found. It’s just unclear what the future holds for our projects.”

Gov. Phil Scott’s March 25 stay-at-home order only allows for construction aiding essential services, such as health care operations and food production.

Contractors, such as engineers and work crews, are allowed to cross state lines to work but “must remain in that state for the duration of the project,” according to the Vermont Agency of Commerce and Community Development.

And when a project is complete, those crews must isolate for 14 days on coming home.

“No employees working in a non-essential capacity are to be commuting back and forth between states,” the agency said in its guidance to the construction industry.

Meanwhile, New Hampshire’s stay-at-home order includes a broad list of exemptions for those working in the construction field to even include new housing projects.

Construction workers were on the job Wednesday at a $200 million expansion on the West End of Dartmouth College’s campus in Hanover, where a 160,000-square-foot Thayer School of Engineering building is being built.

“All of our construction projects have been impacted by COVID-19 to various degrees,” Dartmouth spokeswoman Diana Lawrence said in an email before referring a reporter to Turner Construction Co., a national firm based in New York City that’s overseeing the project.

The Vermont limitations weren’t feasible for ReArch to continue work on the second phase of Lebanon City Hall’s improvement effort, according to Mulholland. That project, which started in earnest in January, is expected to cost $3.3 million.

“All of the subcontractors and the construction company, they’ve ceased operations because (quarantining is) not practical to do,” he said.

And while some New Hampshire-based contractors are still at work, most of the planned improvements are on hold until Vermont counterparts are back, Mulholland said.

Jeff Goodrich, president of Lebanon-based Pathways Consulting, said the city isn’t alone, and projects up and down the Connecticut River are likely seeing similar challenges.

Goodrich, whose firm manages stormwater prevention efforts on both sides of the river, said he knows of at least one New Hampshire road project that stalled after its Vermont contractors couldn’t report to the job.

“I have seen projects canceled or on hold,” Goodrich said.

Other factors are also holding back construction, he said.

Social distancing makes conversations among engineers, attorneys and clients more difficult as discussions have moved online.

“The team collaboration is not with us anymore,” Goodrich said. “You just can’t get everything done in a collaborative way quickly like we used to be able to do it.”

Three Granite State bridge projects could be delayed because of Vermont’s travel restrictions, according to Eileen Meany, spokeswoman for the New Hampshire Department of Transportation.

Those include a $10.1 million replacement of the Route 2 bridge over the Connecticut River in Lancaster, N.H., and a $7.1 million bridge project on the Seacoast.

The Vermont restrictions have reached the desk of New Hampshire Gov. Chris Sununu, who said “there’s not a whole lot we can do” about them.

“If you’re using contractors out of Vermont, chances are your projects are delayed in some facet,” he said during a news conference on Tuesday in Concord.

Sununu added that he’s talked to Scott about loosening the limits but doesn’t fault his Republican colleague for keeping them in place.

“Gov. Scott has to make tough decisions for his state like New Hampshire does as well,” he said.

Tim Camerato can be reached at tcamerato@vnews.com or 603-727-3223.

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