Lehigh University Architect Brent Stringfellow shared an update with The Brown and White on university facilities construction and discusses the implications of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Q: How has the pandemic impacted the construction of new Lehigh facilities?
Brent Stringfellow: The biggest impact the pandemic has had on construction is when the governor issued the full state shut-down. We had two days to cease all construction. The shut-down included all on-campus projects. The two projects primarily impacted included the construction of the Singleton, Hitch and Maida dorm houses and the Health, Science and Technology (HST) building.
Q: What setbacks did the pause in construction cause in terms of timing?
BS: The housing construction plan was on a very aggressive schedule to begin with, so when construction ceased, it set us back six weeks. Those six weeks were vital, forcing the team to reschedule the completion date. Time was also lost due to weather-related setbacks, and it took almost two weeks to restart construction once the governor reopened the state.
The HST project’s timeline was not as aggressive. The cease in construction set this project back by about four weeks.
Q: When will the new Lehigh facilities be completed?
BS: If all goes according to plan moving forward, the new dorms should be ready for occupation by the end of November 2020. The HST building, initially planned to be completed by August 2021, will be ready in the fall of 2021. Whether or not the HST building will be open exactly on the first day of the semester classes is still unknown.
Q: What precautions are being taken during construction due to the pandemic?
BS: Construction already has many different safety protocols, but now with the pandemic there are even more. Workers must wear masks in addition to all their usual safety gear. Temperature scanners, hand washing stations and more strict rules regarding social distancing and quality control.
So far, construction has not had to stop due to a COVID outbreak. Workers who have been sent home due to any type of sickness (or) symptoms have specific precautions (they are) required to take.
Q: Are there any other construction challenges as a result of COVID-19?
BS: Each of the projects are outsourcing large construction management firms. Each project requires different supply chains. The housing project still utilizes many different materials, some of which have been challenging to obtain due to certain COVID-related restrictions within each industry. The HST project is mainly working with concrete and steel, therefore limiting the supply chain challenges.
Q: How are you feeling about where the projects are headed?
A: I am really excited about where the project is going. If anything, the pandemic and challenges it has created with these construction projects only reinforce our need for new and improved facilities.