Terence Cullen | Commercial Observer 5/06/2015
For Steven Hurwitz, this winter was probably more chilling than it was for his fellow New Yorkers.
The executive vice president of GFI Development Company had to worry about how many days his veteran construction workers would lose on 5 Beekman Street—a Downtown hotel Mr. Hurwitz’s company is developing—because of foul conditions. Like any developer, GFI planned ahead to lose days every now and then to poor conditions in which cranes couldn’t lift concrete or the city’s Department of Buildings deemed the wind gusts unsafe to work on towers.
But he never expected anything like this year.
“Every responsible contractor is trying to figure out ways and methods for schedule recovery,” Mr. Hurwitz said. “It was a constant battle in terms of trying to figure that out [this winter].”
What made this a particularly brutal winter was a cocktail of heavy snow, bone-chilling temperatures and gale forces that could knock trees down, construction experts said. Along with just shutting a project down for a few days per snowstorm or cold snap, heavy winds can cause safety hazards that could knock loose materials and workers.
“All of those factors combined to cause some level of impact on the schedule,” said Lou Coletti, the president of the Building Trades Employers’ Association. “This was probably the worst winter we’ve had in a long time.”
And March was the first month this year in which the average temperature was above freezing, according to the National Weather Service. Looking at temperatures in Central Park, the average temperature in January was 29.9 degrees, in February it was 23.9 degrees and in March it finally crept up to 38.1 degrees. Forty-nine inches of snow fell during that time.
Wind was a major component that hindered projects, Mr. Coletti said. At a certain point, the DOB will issue a wind advisory for construction sites to secure its materials if gusts get too strong. Winds were tough this year since the National Weather Service recorded a high gust speed of 46 miles per hour in January, 42 miles per hour in February and 44 miles per hour in March.
“To me, the wind was a new factor,” Mr. Coletti said. “There’s no question that the wind was a significant factor about this winter schedule.”
The construction crews at Lend Lease, which is building the towering 432 Park Avenue, braved the conditions while pouring concrete for the building’s superstructure, said Ralph Esposito, the company’s president. Between 20-degree temperatures and fierce winds roughly 1,400 feet above the street, Mr. Esposito said the contractor had to double down on heat for the workers and capitalize on warm days by working overtime.
“If it wasn’t freezing, it was snowing. If it wasn’t snowing, the winds were blowing at 40 miles an hour,” Mr. Esposito said. “To the extent we could work late, we would work late.”
Because Old Man Winter plunked extra days out of the construction schedule for 5 Beekman Street, Mr. Hurwitz said it required figuring out how to work around those lost days. That includes trying to secure permits for weekend work without losing a day in the middle of the week, or securing more manpower for afternoon work if morning conditions shut down the job site.
Regardless, Mr. Hurwitz said he’s completely sure construction on the 287-room hotel with 68 residences will meet all of its target dates.
“It’s gauging usage of manpower,” he said. “It’s a matter of a juggling act.”
Mr. Esposito, whose company is also working on riverside expansions at Columbia University, said he’s confident his company, too, will make its targets. But how he and other contractors will anticipate next year’s schedule is up for grabs.
“It’s kind of a challenge,” he said. “Do you assume a typical New York winter or do you assume the one you just had?”