Thursday, July 18, 2024

Framing for the Miller River project in East Cambridge is seen in January. Like other construction, the project was on hold during a coronavirus shutdown. (Photo: Cambridge Housing Authority via Twitter)

Prepare to start hearing the sounds of construction again as Cambridge moves though a four-phase plan to restart work its development industry – and the housing and financial benefits that come with it.

This week was preparatory, city councillors heard at a Thursday meeting for coronavirus-related updates from city staff. The Inspectional Services and Public Works departments spent it reviewing submitted safety plans from contractors and holding virtual meetings – with more than 200 construction industry participants – to go over worksite safety requirements, said Matt Nelson, an assistant to City Manager Louis A. DePasquale.

Phase two starts Monday, he said.

That means work can begin again on developments of 100 percent affordable housing, “horizontal construction” and other civic building projects, and larger buildings that already have permits.

Phase three, tentatively set to start June 15, adds all remaining existing permits, Nelson said. The final phase, eyed for June 29, allows new permits to be granted.

“As part of the city’s amended temporary construction order, we also added a category in ‘essential work,’” meaning construction related to helping restaurants reopen, Nelson said. “So if a restaurant wants to pull a new permit to conduct work in their establishment related to Covid-19 prep, they can request that permit at any time during these phases.”

Somerville cut off construction March 27 except for work “to make sites safe and for health- and safety-related activities,” but began a phased construction restart May 18, according to an emailed update. The phase-in is both ahead of Cambridge and slower: The first phase underway is for “highly critical projects” and contractors who have shown high Covid-19 safety standards on sites outside Somerville. The second phase starts Monday, as in Cambridge, adding some private construction.; only in July through September will a third phase give attention to more “highly critical projects … in the design and bidding phase”; and a final phase may wait until 2021 to okay projects still under review.

Building permit revenue

Construction froze in Cambridge March 18, except for one-, two- and three-family residential structures that already have their permits, and held despite Gov. Charlie Baker’s finding March 25 that development was essential. Somerville and Boston also resisted Baker’s guidelines.

In a budget hearing Tuesday, DePasquale revealed that the coronavirus shutdown lowered Cambridge revenue from such things as the hotel-motel tax, meals tax, motor vehicle, excise and sewer fees, costing the city about $6 million since mid-March. “Even with that, we’ve got about $26 million in positive revenues – mostly building permits and building permit-related interest earnings,” he said.

Construction advisory group

The restart plan was put in place over the past five weeks with the help of a 22-member Construction Advisory Group with experts in public health and representatives from building trade unions, inspectional services and public works officials, contractors, development project managers and universities, said Lee Gianetti, director of communications and community relations.

The group helped decide what would be needed from contractors to get back to work on their constriction sites, Gianetti said. That included a cleaning and decontamination checklist and a report on the number of workers expected on the job site – and acknowledgment that no nonessential personnel may be present. Contractors were also encouraged, “and in some cases required,” to conduct a site-specific risk analysis and make a Covid-19 safety plan for more complex projects.