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‘BUSINESS AS USUAL’: Most contractors, cities plowing ahead with projects amid outbreak

A week after Gov. Tony Evers declared a state of emergency in response to the outbreak of COVID-19, it’s business as usual for most public construction work.

State and local officials say they’re still planning to bid out new public jobs and won’t require contractors to limit work on ongoing projects, even as the pandemic has led state officials to limit gatherings to no more than 10 people. The number of COVID-19 cases in Wisconsin rose to 155 on Thursday from 106 a day before.

State officials have closed schools, restaurants, taverns and have encouraged people to keep their distance from one another in a broad effort to slow the spread of the virus. Despite these measures, state officials haven’t explicitly limited construction work in Wisconsin.

Industry officials expect most contractors to push ahead in the absence of an outright ban. Earlier this week, the Mayor of Boston banned work on building projects, drawing the ire of trade groups.

The Wisconsin Department of Transportation said Thursday it is intent on keeping construction projects on schedule. The agency, however, announced Thursday afternoon that it would temporarily suspend all public-involvement meetings and open houses for design and construction projects.

“Personal health of employees, contractors and consultants is a core focus in all conversations about staffing, supplies and scheduling for project work,” according to a statement from agency. “The department will continue to monitor and entertain discussion with contractors on the latest guidance, with a goal of remaining helpful and flexible to complete project objectives as effectively and safely as possible.”

Meanwhile, the state Department of Administration said it will no longer hold in-person bid openings on projects the agency oversees, and will instead set up teleconferences for the meetings. The agency will also require contractors to submit bids by mail or third-party delivery and will maintain an office in Eau Claire for contractors to submit bids.

Wisconsin’s response to the outbreak is changing by the day. On Wednesday, Gov. Evers issued an executive order temporarily waiving a requirement that unemployment insurance beneficiaries search for jobs. He also called on the state Legislature to eliminate a requirement that people getting UI benefits wait a week before receiving their first check. Some Wisconsin cities are still bidding projects as usual.

Steven Grenier, Green Bay director of public works, said the city hasn’t yet altered its process for public bids. He said he’s seeking clarification from the city’s legal staff about how state restrictions on gatherings could affect projects. For now, though, it’s “business as usual,” he said. Likewise, the city of Racine said it would still execute timely construction contracts. City officials in Milwaukee didn’t by press time Thursday return  requests seeking comment about their procedures.

In Madison, city engineering-staff employees are mostly working from home after the COVID-19 and officials have put on hold a number of scheduled public-information meetings.

The city, however, isn’t shutting down ongoing construction work and is leaving it up to companies to comply with state directives.

“Projects in the pipeline are proceeding to construction at this time with the contractors responsible for addressing social distancing within their workforce,” said Hannah Mohelnitzky, a spokeswoman for the city of Madison.

About Nate Beck, [email protected]

Nate Beck is The Daily Reporter's construction staff writer. He can be reached at (414) 225-1814 (office) or 414-388-5635 (mobile).

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