Governor's office: Construction to be allowed beginning May 7

Craig Mauger Sarah Rahal
The Detroit News

Lansing — Gov. Gretchen Whitmer will allow the construction industry to get back to work May 7, a spokesman for the governor confirmed Wednesday morning.

The Michigan Information & Research Service (MIRS News) first reported the date on Tuesday. Zack Pohl, a Whitmer spokesman, confirmed the report.  

"No one should be surprised that the governor would open a lower-risk field like she has said at previous press conferences," Pohl said in a statement.

More construction is framed through the windows of the parking structure on 11 mile, east of Main Street in Royal Oak, Michigan on April 14, 2020.

Earlier this week, Whitmer said residential and commercial construction and additional outdoor enterprises would be among the next businesses to reopen after the governor effectively shut down the state's economy to the stem the spread of COVID-19 on March 23. Michigan's stay-at-home order stopped many construction projects that weren't deemed "essential."

Last week, Whitmer permitted lawn services, garden shops, landscapers and nurseries to begin operating again as long as they follow "enhanced" social-distancing rules.

Sandy K. Baruah, president and CEO of the Detroit Regional Chamber, touted the news Wednesday that Whitmer will reopen the construction industry.

“The continued pragmatic and safe measures to get Michigan back to work that Gov. Whitmer is taking, such as opening up the construction sector on May 7, aligns with the Chamber’s point of view for reactivating the economy in phases,” Baruah said in a statement.

On Tuesday, the Michigan Senate approved two resolutions that asked Whitmer to ease additional restrictions.

The Senate formally urged Whitmer to expand the number of people who can go to work during the COVID-19 pandemic and to allow elective procedures in hospitals.

Both the House and Senate are expected to meet Wednesday morning as they consider a request from the governor to extend her emergency declaration 28 days. The declaration currently expires Friday.

Builders weigh in

Chris Childs, owner and operator of Tri-County Builders in Brighton, said resuming work while assuring employee and customer safety will be challenging.

"I’m scared. These additions and whole-house remodels we have planned, going into someone's home is going to be absolutely different," he said.

"As someone who wears masks on a regular basis, there's no way you can use an N-95 mask for more than an hour," Childs said. "That's absurd and who knows what other respiratory issues that is going to cause. With the high demand, we'll be lucky to even find them."

Childs said that last April, his income was more than $100,000; this month, he took in $1,025.

"Of the 17 projects on my board for the year, five have already postponed and two of them were $100,000 projects," said Childs, who started his company in 2005. "I’m not going to recoup that. It won’t happen."

Bob Filka, head of the Home Builders Association of Michigan, said they have been focused on webinar training sessions and communicating with the administration to develop coronavirus protocols.

"People in our industry have been frustrated more in recent weeks than at the beginning of the virus," said Filka, adding workers are anxious to return. "There's going to be a multiplier effect on the economy because some of these supply chains, you can't just stop and start up again."

One of the hardest challenges will be regaining the workforce who left Michigan to go to surrounding states where road workers were deemed essential, Filka said.

The pandemic required industry officials to move emergency inspections, paperwork and screenings to be done virtually, a silver lining that has made working more efficient, he said.

"Building departments are realizing that taking a technology platform to a home that needs to be inspected is an outcome of the pandemic that we will be seeing more of," Filka said. "It's increasingly made processing more efficient in a historically in-person type of activity."

Kerlin Blaise, with Blaze Contracting, said during a Detroit press conference Wednesday they are ready to get back to work, even if it meant taking cuts to supplement other expenses for screenings. 

"Having to stay at home really hurt," said Blaise. "We took the time during this process to devise a plan to have most of the PPE in-house and started a work sanitization bucket at each job site."