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MW Builders Inc. didn’t have to wait long or look far to see how the Covid-19 pandemic would hamper construction.

The Lenexa-based general contractor faced early “ups and downs” just wondering whether crew members fearful of catching the disease would show up for work consistently, President Todd Winnerman said.

“There was a lot of uncertainty with the workers,” Winnerman said. “They were hearing that some other job sites were possibly infected, and, knock on wood, we did not have any of ours infected.”

Area construction executives said their companies have found ways to keep crews working safely. Other challenges have arisen, however, as clients have temporarily halted or delayed the start of projects because of questions about financing or how the pandemic might alter the market.

Indeed, commercial construction starts in April declined 81% compared with last year, according to Dodge Data & Analytics.

A new type of job safety

Winnerman said MW Builders worked to make crews comfortable at its development sites, which include the Flashcube and City Club projects in Downtown and the Crossroads Arts District, respectively, and the Village Cooperative senior housing project in Olathe. Most workers began showing up regularly again. 

Onsite crew members undergo daily temperature screenings, with help from a third-party medical assistant the company hired. Workers receive wristbands to show that they’ve passed screenings. Those who don’t pass are sent home and must either provide a negative Covid-19 test result or be symptom-free for 72 hours before they can return.

To maintain social distancing, contractors work in staggered shifts and restrict the number of people on 6-foot-wide construction lifts. At times, Kansas City-based Centric has brought in extra lifts to reduce waits for them, partner Steve Swanson said.

Distancing measures, plus extra time spent washing hands and cleaning tools, has slowed work to some degree, he said, but not significantly.

“One of our superintendents equated the productivity to the typical week between Christmas and New Year’s, when it’s a little bit slower,” Swanson said.

Winnerman said he expects to keep MW Builder’s onsite protections in place at least until July, when company officials will reevaluate.

“We’re definitely navigating uncharted territory,” he said. 

JE Dunn Construction also isn’t rushing to eliminate third-party temperature screenings and other safety measures.

“We’ve been talking to our clients and preparing our project teams for this to go on until it doesn’t,” said Paul Neidlein, JE Dunn’s Midwest regional president.