Snow slows builders’ pace |

Snow slows builders’ pace

by Jay Hamburger OF THE RECORD STAFF

The mortgage crisis, stock-market jitters and the fighting in Iraq hardly dented Park City’s construction industry.

But blanket the town with snowstorm after snowstorm — that can halt the digging, hammering and earth moving.

The big snows recently did not stop all the construction, but they made it much more difficult for the workers. Some projects shut down temporarily, according to the local homebuilders group, and others suffered delays as the snow fell.

Instead of pounding away with hammers and putting up walls, some crews were instead seen shoveling snow out of unfinished houses as they tried to keep the space clear.

"Depending on where you’re at in the phase of construction, it can be really detrimental," says Scott Stubbs, the co-owner of a company that builds custom houses and the president of the Park City Area Home Builders Association.

The snowy weather kept crews working for his Legacy Group Construction out of six construction sites in Promontory last week, he says, describing snowdrifts that were too tall for the workers. A few days of construction were lost in the ritzy development, he says.

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"It does hinder production a bit — them not being able to get to the job site," Stubbs says, explaining the bad weather hurts bigger builders more than smaller ones.

Construction is one of the Park City area’s most lucrative industries, setting two consecutive records inside the city limits in 2007 and 2006. The builders understand their prime season is summer and early fall, but they try to work as much as they can during the rest of the year, when the threat of bad weather extends from September until June.

Mild winters through much of the last decade have allowed the construction crews to work through the winter without lots of hindrances. This winter, especially in the last few weeks, has challenged them, though, with a series of snowstorms pummeling the area.

"The lumber’s buried. You have to dig it out. You have to clean it," says Ron Ivie, City Hall’s veteran chief building official, estimating it costs up to twice as much for the builders to work in the winter as it does in the summer.

The National Weather Service has reported 26 inches of snow fell between Feb. 3 and Feb. 4, and snow was heavy before that total was recorded. There was more snow later this week.

The workers are not as productive because they are cold, newly poured concrete must be kept under heat until it strengthens, perhaps for a week, and the crews must shovel the snow, Ivie says.

Some builders must arrange for dump trucks to haul the snow off a construction site, such as in Old Town, Ivie says. The private-sector dump trucks join those that City Hall has sent into the neighborhoods to take the snow away from the sides of streets.

"You either have to haul it or not build," Ivie says. "It slows her up, it sure does."

Projects that are in their early stages, without the roofs on yet, are worse off in the winter weather than ones that are enclosed, he says. Meanwhile, Ivie says, the terrible road conditions of recent weeks have slowed suppliers and subcontractors who drive to Park City from Salt Lake City.

It is difficult to put a precise price tag on the effects of the weather, and the city’s Building Department will not compile the February numbers until early March.

Stubbs from the Home Builders Association says a week of lost work could cost $3,500 in builder fees per house, depending on the type of agreement the contractor has with an owner.

If a project is delayed too long, Stubbs says, the construction crew might abandon the project and find a job elsewhere.

"If your guys are expecting to work, and they can’t work one, two, three weeks, you risk losing them," he says.

In Old Town, with its narrow streets, snow is piled high on the roadsides. There are few major projects under construction in the neighborhood, but David Belz is continuing to put up the houses in his Parkwood Place development near the Town Lift.

Belz estimates his crews have trucked out between 60 and 70 loads of snow during the winter, costing him, he says, tens of thousands of dollars.

"They’re tight, urban sites," he says. "There’s no place to push the snow."

At Parkwood Place, where the unfinished houses are exposed to the snow, the workers are shoveling, tossing the snow from the construction zone as they wear their hard hats.

At least one of the Parkwood Place workers must ascend to the roof. Wearing a safety harness to protect him if he falls, he shovels the snow off the roof, standing close to the edge as he dumps the snow down.

"People who build, they know that’s the reality of building in this environment," Belz says. "It’s not as good as working on a nice spring day, when it’s warm and you can have a T-shirt on."