Construction shortages loom | AspenTimes.com

Construction shortages loom

Janet Urquhart

A worker constructs a building that will feature retail space, offices and residential lofts at Willits in Basalt. Contractors are bracing for material shortages and rising prices following hurricanes Katrina and Rita. (Mark Fox/The Aspen Times)

What could drastically slow the torrid pace of construction in Aspen and the Roaring Fork Valley? A concrete shortage.Compound it with an anticipated lumber shortage and the already skyrocketing cost of building materials because of the need to rebuild a swath of the Gulf Coast and the valley’s got a construction slowdown in the making. Anyone with a project under way or in the works is scrambling to refine construction schedules and line up materials at a set price. In reality, if they haven’t already done so, their contingency budgets may be busted quickly.Hitting the valley already is a regional concrete shortage because of high demand and the temporary shutdown of one Colorado cement plant that’s making repairs to its kiln. Cement is a component of concrete. Concrete suppliers are rationing the material.Rodd Thornburg, project manager at the Obermeyer Place construction site in Aspen, hopes the shortage eases in October, as predicted.”Concrete is the biggest issue with us right now,” said Thornburg, senior project manager with R.A. Nelson, the contractor on the Obermeyer project. The company’s supplier delivered 40 cubic yards of concrete to the site in September. “We probably needed 600 yards,” he said.

But most of the concrete work at Obermeyer Place is already done, noted a relieved Dwayne Romero, Obermeyer Redevelopment Co. project manager.”If this were happening a year ago, we’d really be in harm’s way in terms of scheduling impact,” he said.Instead, it’s developers who are just starting work who are anxious.Ed Sadler, Aspen’s assistant city manager and the man who oversees the city’s construction projects, is watching the concrete situation closely. Aspen’s Burlingame Ranch housing project is going to need a lot of it shortly, if it is to proceed on schedule with the pouring of foundations in the coming weeks.Pouring concrete during the winter is more complicated and more costly.”Everybody’s being rationed at the moment,” Sadler said. “Smaller contractors can’t get any of it. Some people are driving to Grand Junction and buying the bags [of cement] and mixing it themselves.”

The Residences at Little Nell, a hotel under construction at the base of Aspen Mountain, will be entirely formed with concrete. So far, though, the project is only about two weeks behind because of the shortage, according to Jeff Hanson, operations manager with Swinerton Builders, the general contractor.”Everybody that’s trying to pour concrete will be impacted by it,” he said.The Colorado Department of Transportation will be watching concrete availability closely. Its contractor building the new Maroon Creek bridge on the outskirts of Aspen will need about 7,000 cubic yards of it – that’s roughly 1,000 truckfuls – over the next year and a half, noted Joe Elsen, CDOT program engineer in Glenwood Springs.”I have a house that we just started and we ended up waiting two weeks to get concrete for the foundation after we had it all formed up,” said Mark Przybylski, president of Rudd Construction in Basalt. “Also, our lumber suppliers have told us we can probably expect lumber shortages off and on.”A destructive hurricane will also drive up the price of lumber and steel, and it already has. The price of wood products is up 57 percent, Sadler said. He’s hoping Shaw Construction, the general contractor for Burlingame, has already contracted for sufficient quantities of lumber at pre-Katrina prices.

Shaw is building 86 townhome units at Burlingame, but the local workers who purchase 11 lots to be sold there this fall will face building their own homes at peak prices.”The prudent person might say, ‘It’s too expensive to build right now. I’m going to wait until things turn around,’ ” Mayor Helen Klanderud mused.At lumber supplier BMC West in Aspen, demand is exceeding the supply of some types of lumber, as worried customers try to stockpile materials, according to Bob Arnold, branch manager. The panic is driving up the price of plywood and waferboard in particular, he said.”We have a lot of customers who want to buy everything they need for the next 90 days and we just don’t have it,” Arnold said.”All the construction commodities – lumber, copper, aluminum – everything is going to be impacted by the rebuilding of the Gulf,” predicted Swinerton’s Hanson. “It’s something we’re watching very, very closely. We’ve got a lot of clients who could be impacted by this.”Janet Urquhart’s e-mail address is janet@aspentimes.com

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