Building industry inundated after flood
As the owner of Boulder-based Milo Construction Corp. rebuilt his own home and those of multiple neighbors, he repeatedly learned that what a family lost was often far different than what insurance companies were willing to replace. Or families were vastly underinsured. Or both.
The knowledge has helped him in recent weeks as he’s once again aiding neighbors and customers navigate the aftermath of a disaster, September’s 100-year flood that devastated Boulder County and many other parts of the Front Range.
“I’m very cagey about flood-related claims and insurance promise payments,” Minniear said recently. “So we’re very choosy about how we go about starting the work.”
Helping navigate the insurance quagmire is just one of the many obstacles with which area contractors are dealing in the wake of the flood that destroyed hundreds of homes in Boulder County and damaged hundreds more. From a sudden crushing workload to a difficulty hiring extra help to waiting for payments, a construction industry that already was busy now finds itself inundated.
For several area contractors spoken to in recent days, the increased workload has ranged from 25 percent to 30 percent, almost across the board.
“I don’t know how to quantify that, but I will qualify it as overwhelming,” said Larry Parrish, co-owner of Parrish Construction Co. “Certainly more work than we could do.
“We try to help everybody somehow. Even if we can’t do their work in their timeframe, we try to give them some advice on what to watch for.”
The increased workload has meant a sort of triage response by contractors, where they’re evaluating damage and trying to get to the most pressing jobs first. For some, it’s meant placing their own needs on the back burner.
The basement of Parrish’s Boulder home was flooded, but once he got cleanup done he put his own rebuilding off to focus on customers’ jobs. At ERC Insulation and Elton R. Construction in east Boulder, the companies’ warehouse was flooded, causing owners Christine and Elton Randall to base their office operations – and four employees – at their home for two weeks so they could keep the business running.
Adding employees to help mitigate the workload hasn’t been easy.
Minniear, who had 16 employees already, has hired 10 temporary laborers since the flood and is looking for more. Christine Randall said her companies, which were slightly understaffed at 20 employees before the flood, have hired 10 new people since, some on a permanent basis and some temporarily. Randall said ERC Insulation and Elton R. Construction actually had tried to hire about 20 new employees. But the flood cleanup effort itself has been nasty work at times.
“You get them on a mud crew, and they’ll last two hours and walk,” Randall said. “Or they won’t show up the next day. … But we’ve found some keepers.”
Alexandra Hall, chief economist with the Colorado Department of Labor and Employment, said the state’s construction industry has been recovering steadily over the past year. Through August, the state had recovered 10,100 construction jobs over the preceding 12 months that had been lost during the recession.
What that number doesn’t account for is how many available construction jobs remain unfilled. Many construction workers left the area or went to other industries such as oil and gas during the downturn. And the temporary nature of disaster recovery work is unpalatable to some workers who might have found steady work elsewhere.
“What you have here is a situation where you just had spontaneously all these projects created,” Hall said, noting the competition between contractors to hire available skilled tradesman and laborers. “Projects aren’t usually created spontaneously, particularly in heavy construction.”
In addition to dealing with the extra work, contractors are often serving as advisors or negotiators on their customers’ behalf.
Minniear said he’s estimating flood-related jobs multiple times to make sure he understands the scope of what needs to be done so he can help clients negotiate with insurance companies. Unless people had pictures of their $25-per-square-foot tile that got washed away with their home, for instance, they probably aren’t getting compensated the full value.
Aside from just insurance, some customers are finding repairs to be more costly than they were prepared for because building codes have become more stringent, meaning higher-efficiency windows, insulation and appliances often are required. Then there’s the aspect of customers dealing with haphazard evaluations by contractors.
Sandy Weeks, owner of Blue Spruce Design and Construction Co., said she’s come across residents who had gotten estimates from other contractors that underestimated or misdiagnosed the scope of repairs.
“Because there’s a lot of stress and emotion, they don’t know who to believe and what the right answers are,” Weeks said.
While home remodels and repairs have been a major source of the post-flood workload, major infrastructure contractors such as Longmont-based Zak Dirt Inc. have been working around the clock to repair the state’s roads and bridges.
Zak was 90 percent finished with a $5.2 million project to refurbish and rebuild a stretch of Colorado Highway 66 east of Interstate 25 when the flood hit, destroying a 150-foot section of the new highway and damaging 1,000 more feet.
Farther north, Zak employees worked 24 hours a day after the flood to repair a 500-foot section of U.S. Highway 34 east of Greeley. The company also has been busy rebuilding irrigation canals and other water diversion structures wiped out by flooding.
Zak project manager Angelo Mancina said it could be a couple of weeks or a few months before the company is paid for the emergency work given the paperwork and processes the state has to go through. Meanwhile, all of the extra work for Zak – the bulk of whose business comes from the Colorado Department of Transportation – has meant shifting things around to stay on schedule with its regular contractual work. Mancina said the company is having to eat the cost of overtime on many of those previously scheduled jobs.
“We’re putting in way more hours on everything now,” Mancina said. “It’s part of doing business. We’re not complaining. We just want to get it done and do what we said we’re going to do.”
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