Tuesday, April 16, 2024

Construction cranes loom over Cambridge in late October. (Photo: Glenna Wyman)

The city’s construction moratorium early in the pandemic, together with new safety requirements for workers, will cost the Cambridge Housing Authority at least $1.4 million in extra expenses for renovations at three sites, according to contract changes approved since August.

The most recent increase, approved by CHA commissioners Tuesday, included thousands of dollars for additional labor costs for the rehabilitation of the Millers River elderly/disabled public housing development in East Cambridge because subcontractors’ employees on the project must add 15 minutes to their workday to comply with infection control measures. The total increase, which also includes protective equipment, taxes, and profits, amounts to $142,788.

The general contractor for the project will get an additional $808,493, including $337,920 for labor to maintain the Millers River construction site during the two-and-a-half-month shutdown and $121,812 for three weeks of work to prepare the site to resume construction with new safety measures. That change order was approved Aug. 13.

Millers River, built in 1972 with 297 apartments for low-income elderly residents and younger disabled tenants, had deteriorated extensively and is the most expensive project in CHA’s citywide renovation program, at $112.8 million. CHA has spent almost $8 million so far for all change orders, leaving almost $942,000 left for contingencies.

The other two sites with pandemic-related extra expenses are Burns Apartments in North Cambridge and 78-80 Porter Road, also in North Cambridge. Burns, with 196 apartments for elderly or disabled tenants, will cost an additional $429,392 for the shutdown, preparation to resume work, and extra safety requirements. Total project cost is almost $69 million.

The renovation of the 26-unit Porter Road building is a much smaller job. Two increases approved in August added $95,500 for work and materials during the shutdown, preparations for resumption, and new safety mandates, bringing the total contract to $12 million.

Another construction cost increase has an indirect connection to the pandemic. The housing authority will pay an extra $491,729 to speed up renovation of two elevators at Millers River. Instead of taking six months for each elevator, the work will be completed in 14 weeks. Because of the pandemic, only one person at a time can use the elevator and CHA officials worried about what would happen if one elevator was under renovation for an extended period. Besides that, they feared that with a resurgence in cases there could be another construction moratorium, leaving the complex with only one elevator for even longer.

Across the industry

The housing authority isn’t the only developer affected by pandemic-related cost increases. Peter Daly, executive director of Homeowners Rehab, the nonprofit affordable housing builder and manager, said the company was “fortunate in getting bidding done before Covid hit but are anxious about the future.”

“Our current project has seen additional costs due to Covid requirements and also schedule delays from suppliers due to Covid, but we cannot yet quantify this,” Daly said.

Michael Owu, managing director of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology Investment Management Co., which is building several commercial and residential projects in the Kendall Square area, said the university was represented on the city’s Construction Advisory Group and that the group prioritized safety “even if that would ultimately lead to an increase in costs.”

“To ensure we are maintaining a safe work environment, each job site received additional [personal protective equipment], hand wash stations, temperature screenings, signage and modified work procedures to maintain physical distancing, which increased costs on every MIT project,” Owu said. The costs varied “depending on the project size, type and how close the project was to completion prior to the pandemic.”