THURSDAY, May 7 — Cranes are back in the sky above Greater Lansing.
As Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s executive prohibition on construction ended this morning, developers wasted no time getting their builders back to work across Greater Lansing.
“We’re excited to get back to work. We’re going to start off slow and make sure everyone is following the rules,” said local developer Pat Gillespie. “We’re setting up posters, hand sanitizer stations, masks are coming in. We’re getting out there right away, mostly on outdoor activities.”
Gillespie is primarily focused on an upcoming hotel and grocery store along the 600 block of East Michigan Avenue. Plans originally called for the mixed-use construction project, which includes dozens of market-rate apartments, to open this fall.
“We’ll see how quickly we can get phased back in, but we’re definitely behind,” Gillespie said. “I’d expect we’re about a week away from setting a new opening date. We’re not quite sure.”
Dozens of masked contractors were hammering away at the project early this morning. Nearby, a utility crew was hoisting a crane above Lansing’s lug nut sculpture in the sky near the Nuthouse Sports Grill. A few masked contractors were also on site for construction at the Michigan State Capitol.
As the COVID-19 pandemic spread across Michigan, Whitmer had declared commercial and residential construction as nonessential and prohibited any ongoing development plans. Earlier this month, she reeled back that order and allowed builders to get back to work today.
The latest executive order allows some types of work that present a low risk of infection — including construction, real estate and other outdoor work — to resume as long as employers take appropriate safety precautions designed to help mitigate the spread of the coronavirus.
Construction sites must designate a supervisor to enforce COVID-19 control strategies, conduct daily health screenings for workers, create dedicated entry points with signage, identify choke points and high-risk areas for enhanced social distancing and ensure sanitation continues.
“We’re all excited,” added Brent Forsberg, a local developer and president of the Lansing Homebuilders Association. “We’ve been working with all of our subcontractors over the last week on site safety plans and getting geared back up. It seems the industry as a whole is ready to get plans in place to get back to work cautiously and in as prudent of a manner as possible.”
As Forsberg’s crews reassemble to continue building Tembo Eaton Village, a pocket neighborhood of a dozen smaller homes, extreme caution will be paramount. The last thing he wants is for his crew members to get sick and set back the project any further than it already is.
“The big thing for us is just changing some old habits,” Forsberg added. “People are used to throwing a hammer or borrowing a saw. We need to keep things separate, avoid sharing tools and be cautious of how this virus can transfer. That also means masks will need to be worn.”
Whitmer’s order also requires companies to provide and encourage personal protective equipment — like gloves and masks — for their employees. Face shields and masks must also be worn when workers cannot consistently maintain a six-foot separation from other workers.
Forsberg has been sourcing as much of his protective equipment as possible from local businesses. American Fifth Spirits is providing sanitizer for his company. Local sewing groups are assembling face masks in bulk. It’s important to keep cash in the community, he said.
Workers in fluorescent vests were also walking around the future site of Abbot Apartments and the Graduate Hotel in East Lansing this morning. Trucks pulling trailers were pulling in and out of the upcoming McLaren Hospital as dozens of workers converged on the construction site.
City streets appeared to have more construction-related traffic as they gear back up for work. And the recently downsized Red Cedar project along Michigan Avenue is also back in action. Several contractors could be seen hammering away from the rooftops and across the property.
“We believe in the science. We’re not putting anyone’s life in jeopardy over a job,” said its developer, Joel Ferguson. “We totally believe in safety and health and we’re going to follow whatever the governor wants us to do over there. We play with the hand that has been dealt.”