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Photo: Treehouse at Spruce Peak project by PC Construction. Photo: PC Construction
by Joy Choquette, Vermont Business Magazine
Spring has sprung and with it the sounds of the season: hammers pounding, trucks reversing, and voices of construction workers calling to each other over the hubbub. But the sounds this season are quieter than most.
That said Richard Wobby, executive vice president of the Associated General Contractors of Vermont, (AGC) is because there are still challenges hurting the construction industry.
engineer sydneyPhoto: Richard Wobby, executive vice president of Associated General Contractors of VT. Courtesy photo.
“What’s concerning to us is that we’re not seeing a big commercial side,” Wobby noted. “This is usually a fairly robust time of year. I think it’s really the inflationary factor and interest rates that are playing into that,” said Wobby.
It’s not just Vermont that’s suffering of course. Wobby stated that this is a national trend and one that’s caused by ongoing supply chain issues and workforce shortages.
“I don’t think presently we’re going to see a big drop in the overall cost of production,” Wobby said. He called this a “big challenge” in the industry now.
As an example, Wobby noted that 2x4s more than quadrupled in cost—to five times their normal price—during the pandemic. While they’ve come down significantly—closer to half that amount—they still cost twice as much as two years ago.
Another example Wobby gave was a concrete crew normally made of seven workers. If that’s down to four, the company can only do half the work of a full team.
Matt Cooke, president, and CEO at PC Construction stated that the tight labor market continues to significantly impact the construction industry.
engineer sydneyPhoto: Matt Cooke, president/CEO of PC Construction. Photo: Beltrami.
“Skilled people continue to leave the workforce, creating a deep gap between the availability of and demand for qualified construction professionals,” he stated.
Evaluating its recruitment and retention strategies is one way that PC Construction is handling this. Paying competitive and livable wages, said Cooke, is something the company prides itself on. “…but top talent certainly comes at a premium,” he said.
At TimberHomes Vermont, David Hooke, cofounder and one of nine partners in the company, stated that workforce shortage hasn’t affected the Vershire-based firm.
“We did increase compensation a bit more than the cost-of-living increase,” said Hooke. “Our workforce has remained stable, no one [has] headed to another for higher pay.”
The pandemic caused many businesses to work differently.
Unfortunately, said Wobby, things like remote work and shorter workweeks aren’t something the construction industry can offer.
“We have a seasonal work schedule that has to be done on-site,” Wobby said.
Associated Building Contractors of New Hampshire and Vermont (ABC) recently noted that the construction industry will need to attract an average of 546,000 additional workers in addition to the normal hiring done in 2023 to meet demands.
The information was garnered by a proprietary model developed by the organization which used information from the US Census Bureau’s Construction Put in Place survey and the US Bureau of Labor Statistics.
And it’s not just workers in the construction industry who are in demand. Wobby stated that securing equipment operators and truck drivers is a real struggle.
“Someone with a CDL is at a premium right now,” he pointed out.
This too is a trend across the nation. In a recent article in Transport Topics, it was stated that while the trucking industry is likely to see a slowdown in recruitment efforts with demands expected to normalize throughout this year, there’s still a significant need for truck drivers.
Another article via Fleet Owner stated that trucking remains one of the most relied-upon freight transport modes in the US.
The trucking industry is an important part of the construction industry. But with demand far outweighing supply, construction professionals may need to get creative.
Businesses are sprouting up that act as Uber or Lyft for contractors. GoShare, for example, is a virtual delivery fleet of trucks and vans accessed through one’s smartphone.
This app—and others like it—connect contractors with thousands of drivers of vans and trucks, to help meet delivery needs.
It’s not in Vermont yet though—the closest location is Boston.
According to the “2023 Construction Economic Forecast,” published by ABC, the AGC, and Dodge Data and Analytics, certain construction sectors are expected to continue to experience a downturn in 2023.
These include residential and office building projects, and retail, manufacturing, and warehouse construction.
While the early 2022 housing market was healthy, this subsector has experienced a severe challenge. Office construction too will likely experience continued decline as more employees are now working remotely.
Likewise, retail construction is predicted to falter as online shopping has become the norm.
Similarly, with warehouse construction, declines are expected. Amazon announced halting or delaying its construction of warehouses. This giant accounts for 16 percent of the market and so has a significant impact.
Residential construction is an area that has been hit hard in Vermont. Housing costs in the state continue to be problematic as they’re so high.
Wobby believes that building an affordable house for the average person is going to be difficult in 2023. And that means that rent and leases will also continue to be high.
“What’s really going to influence housing is supply and workforce dynamics,” said Wobby.
Permitting is a big issue here, said Wobby. Because of Vermont’s permitting criteria and what Wobby referred to as “duplication of permits”—required Act 250 permits in addition to local permits—the process is “…slow based on our present land use requirements.”
Wobby gave the example of a Vermont town that would create affordable housing on a college campus. It was estimated that the 400 units would cost $300 million, “that’s not affordable housing,” said Wobby.
In addition to the permitting process, workforce shortages, and the cost of the actual materials to build the housing is prohibitive, he stated.
Still, it’s not all bad news.
Similar to national trends, the state is seeing a great upswing in the infrastructure buildout. These are happening across Vermont and are an appreciated trend. There are the normal things of course, Wobby stated—highways, bridges, and stormwater mitigation to name just a few—but also larger projects.
Internet and fiberoptic cable are two, along with some continued solar buildouts.
Additionally, “We have a good number of landfill digestors that are going on,” Wobby stated.
Financial help through federal dollars continues. Everyone in the industry though, said Wobby, knows that the money will eventually run out.
Unless the state comes up with other ways to match federal monies or other ways to funnel more into construction, he believes the funds will last another five years at most.
Inflation too is an issue many wishes would disappear.
“The most visible area where inflation is impacting business is in grossly delayed construction starts,” said Cooke at PC Construction. “Owners are unable to meet their budgets, therefore, value engineering and prolonged preconstruction periods have become the norm before a shovel hits the ground.”
TimberHomes Vermont has felt the pinch of inflation as well.
“Fortunately, we have reasonable short contract-to-delivery timeframes and have structured our contracts to put the volatile items on a ‘time and materials’ basis so that we could re-price at that time,” said Hooke.
The company has been fortunate, he noted, to have not had to eat significant increases. “…there have been some, but not huge or enough to have a drastic impact,” Hooke said.
Training is an area that many construction companies are focusing on in 2023. “Several companies—us included—have put together operator and driver training programs,” said Wobby.
Helping hands in this process were the Department of Labor and federal apprenticeship funds, he noted, both of which allow companies to train the next generation workforce.
Additionally, Wobby noted, “We’ve got several companies out there doing internal trainings.”
engineer sydneyPhoto: TimberHomes Vermont crew. Photo: TimberHomes Vermont.
He said that rather than “just a job” the younger generation is starting to see the value of a career in construction. Helping them see what a career path could look like and how it could help them afford things—be it a house or a Harley—said Wobby, is an important step.
Along those same lines, the AGC of Vermont is sponsoring the state’s largest job fair in April. At the time of this interview, there were 75 employers and approximately 400 job seekers planning to attend the April 20th event.
“We’re all spending a lot more time as an industry in the career centers than we ever have,” said Wobby.
Another positive that the industry is experiencing now, said Wobby, is the diversification within construction.
“One of the great things going on is that we’re seeing different areas of the state start to prosper and build out,” Wobby said.
“And it’s not just happening in Chittenden County.”
For years, that’s where all the construction seemed to be happening, said Wobby. But now, “…if you take a look at some of your largest contractors, they’re based outside that [Chittenden] county,” he noted.
Before focusing on Vermont specifically, it helps to get a bird’s eye view. Nationally, according to the “2023 Construction Economic Forecast,” upswings are expected in the areas of public works projects, power and utilities, and data center construction.
Public works construction is expected to increase by 18 percent, to $225 billion in 2023. This is due to the $1.2 trillion in investments earmarked by the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act (IIJA) in 2021.
The monies will be used to improve the country’s bridges, roads, transit systems, airports, waterways, energy infrastructure, and more.
Similarly, power and utilities are expected to grow due to this bill and the increased interest in renewable energy sources. The study predicts that the sector will grow by eight percent this year.
Lastly, data center construction is continued to grow as more individuals now depend on online shopping and remote work experiences.
How do these trends relate to Vermont’s construction upswing? Several large commercial building projects are going on now in the state.
Cooke at PC Construction stated that the company has a lot of exciting projects happening now that will continue into the future.
The company continues work with the University of Vermont along with a $21 million emergency department modernization project for Southwestern Medical Center.
Additionally, the firm is working in Stowe at the Treehouse and Garage at Spruce Peak—a $75 million project that is taking shape as the next phase of the Spruce Peak Resort development, Cooke said.
A large project in Chittenden County is the 355,000-square-foot BETA Technologies S40 Aircraft Assembly Facility in South Burlington which PC Construction is well under way with, Cooke said.
Falling in line with the increased interest in renewable energy projects, BETA Technologies is an aerospace company that utilizes vertical take-off and landing (eVTOL) for its electric-powered aircraft.
Other current PC Construction projects include:
As the largest construction firm in the state, Cooke stated that business has been strong.
“We are growing, with offices in eight regions along the East Coast,” said Cooke.
The company was recognized as Engineering News-Record (ENR), a leading industry trade publication, as its 2022 Southeast Contractor of the year—a great honor, Cooke said.
TimberHomes Vermont has ongoing projects as well. A big timber-framed home, a shade pavilion for a town park, and carports are among the current projects.
“We have more pavilions and a big barn coming along soon,” said Hooke.
It’s not all doom and gloom when it comes to Vermont’s construction industry.
Silver linings can be found if one knows where to look. Still, finding these may take patience, collaboration, and the willingness to think—and work—outside the box.
Southwestern Vermont Health Care (SVHC) has entered into a purchase and sale agreement of the former Southern Vermont College (SVC) campus, which closed in 2019, to Alfred Weissman Real Estate, LLC (AWRE) in a press conference this morning at the historic Everett Mansion. The real estate agreement between Harrison, NY-based AWRE and SVHC is for the acquisition of the former college campus, including the Everett Mansion, dormitories, gymnasium, soccer field, and 366 acres. SVHC will retain the lower baseball field consisting of five acres.
Financial terms were not disclosed. SVHC paid $3.2 million for the building and grounds in 2020.
AWRE detailed their vision of developing the campus into a 4- to 5-star destination, which will include renovating the Everett Mansion and dormitories into 130 high-end lodging rooms, the creation of a restaurant and spa, and retrofitting the gymnasium into an activities center and event venue.
Additionally, AWRE will partner with the Preservation Trust of Vermont to preserve the Everett Mansion and with the Bennington Area Trail System (BATS) to continue to make the trail system open and available to the public.
“The former college campus has served our health system and community well – most especially over the past three years during the pandemic as our COVID Resource Center as we tested and vaccinated over 60,000 people,” stated Tom Dee, president and CEO of Southwestern Vermont Health Care. “AWRE will continue this tradition of community partnership as they redevelop the campus for greater usage.”  
SVHC purchased the 371- acre former SVC campus in late December 2020. After the purchase, the health system used the campus for a widely successful COVID-19 community clinic. Additionally, SVHC partnered with Town of Bennington and the Bennington Area Trail System to maintain playing fields for youth athletics and keep the trail system open to the public.
“We are excited to become part of the Bennington community,” said AWRE Principal and CEO Alan Weissman. “We look forward to restoring the Everett property and mansion to its original splendor, and believe this effort will have an economic impact on the region through utilizing local businesses, employing area individuals and an increased tax base.”
Bennington Town Manager Stuart Hurd said: “This is a great day for Bennington. This property speaks to the heart of our community, and we are excited with AWRE’s vision as they develop it into a world-class destination.”
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Photo: The historic Everett Mansion formerly housed Southern Vermont College. File photo.
As of April 6, US Route 2 is open to two lanes of traffic, however there will be periods of alternating one-way traffic to allow construction equipment in and out of the work site. The contractor is generally working from 6:30 AM to 4:30 PM, Monday through Saturday.
The bridge has a speed limit of 25 mph. Bicycles should use caution while crossing the bridge.
The work zone speed limit is enforced, and individuals have been ticketed for excessive speeding. Obeying the speed limit is extremely important for everyone’s safety.
NOTICE TO MARINERS: The seasonal operating schedule for the drawbridge has ended.
Mariners are advised to plan their transits accordingly and exercise caution when transiting the area. Chart 14781 LNM 21/22 (CGD1)
CONSTRUCTION ACTIVITIES: This week, the contractor continued installation of formwork and reinforcing steel for the tender house access stairs. The electricians and mechanics are completing final work and test runs of the drawbridge in preparation for the upcoming operating season. Final paving, guardrail, and highway sign installation expected in the coming weeks.
LOCATION: US Route 2, drawbridge connecting North Hero and Grand Isle, VT.
Travelers should be aware of potential lane closures accompanied by alternating one-way traffic starting on April 10th.
Also note that a width restriction will be in effect when the lane closure is put into place. The total travel way width will be 12 feet, barrier to barrier. Oversized loads will not be permitted.
During the week of April 3, the contractor utilized a crane to install modular sections of their work barge into Lake Champlain. Following its assembly, a manlift was secured atop the work barge, providing workers access to the underside of the bridge deck.
Throughout the week, work primarily involved the installation of overhang brackets and temporary construction walkways on both the north and south sides of the suspended span. Workers also installed the temporary navigation lights underneath the suspended span that mark the edges and centerline of the main channel for boaters.
This week the contractor will begin the installation of the temporary traffic control measures on Route 2, including temporary traffic lights and the accompanying construction signage. The traveling public should be aware of potential lane closures accompanied by alternating one-way traffic starting on April 10th.
A large crane was used to assemble a work barge and secure a manlift into place.
Alburgh Passage Bridge Project Public Meeting
A remote public information meeting will be held on Thursday, April 13, at 6 pm.
This meeting will be conducted using Zoom. The meeting link can be accessed by clicking the “Meeting Invitation” button HERE.
The meeting will be open at approximately 5:50 pm on 4/13.
The purpose of this meeting is to present the public with information on the deck replacement project for Bridge 5 in North Hero spanning the Alburgh Passage.
This meeting will provide information on the construction schedule, scope of work, traffic impacts, and sources of information during construction. VTrans staff and the contractor will be present to address any questions or concerns in regard to the work being performed for this project.
North Hero Bridge 5 Public Meeting Link
LOCATION: Approximately 0.2 miles east of the intersection of US Route 2 with VT Route 129 in the Town of North Hero.
Located approximately 0.2 miles east of the intersection of US Route 2 with VT Route 129 in the Town of North Hero, the North Hero BF 028‐1(30) Bridge 5 project will replace the existing bridge concrete deck, that is structurally deficient , with a new bridge deck that meets current design standards.
The existing bridge is a seven span cast‐in‐place deck on steel plate girders constructed in 1954. The existing bridge is 826 feet long and 35 feet wide with a curb‐to‐curb width of 30 feet. The deck is in poor condition, the superstructure is in fair condition and the substructure is in satisfactory condition based on the most recent inspection.
VTrans evaluated alternatives for rehabilitation of North Hero VT US Route 2 in an engineering study completed in June 2016. The study assessed the proposed design criteria for the bridge, impacts to right‐of‐way, wildlife, hydraulics, historic and archeological resources, as well as the needs of the local community.
Several alternatives were considered including, no action, deck replacement, superstructure replacement, full bridge replacement on‐alignment and full bridge replacement on the old alignment. Given the site constraints and current condition, VTrans is moving forward with replacing the concrete deck (including minor steel superstructure repairs) using phased construction.
The new bridge will have two 11‐foot lanes and two 5‐foot shoulders to meet Vermont State Design Standards, and accommodate pedestrians and bicyclists. The proposed new deck will be supported by the existing steel superstructure and existing substructure.
The proposed bridge rehabilitation will require minimal approach roadway work and the vertical curve on the bridge shall remain the same to maintain the existing channel opening in the main span.
The maintenance of traffic options considered included bridge closure with an offsite detour, phased construction, temporary bridge and maintaining traffic on the existing bridge while building a new bridge on a new alignment. Based on cost, length of detour routes and minimizing impacts to ROW and resources, a phased construction was chosen as the best method for traffic control.
A single lane will be maintained on the bridge with alternating one way traffic signals at each end. There will be emergency vehicles overrides in place at each end to minimize impacts to emergency response times between Alburgh and North Hero.
One lane alternating traffic with a traffic signal while the superstructure is constructed in phases.
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Photo: Alburgh bridge work. VTrans photo.
The Vermont Agency of Transportation (AOT) invites municipalities to participate in the Municipal Roads Grants-in-Aid Program, which provides funding for municipalities to implement best management practices (BMPs) in accordance with the Vermont Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) Municipal Roads General Permit (MRGP).
Grants-in-Aid awards will be made available through AOT and will total approximately $3.6 million dollars in this grant cycle.
Municipalities will submit reimbursement requests directly to AOT for work completed, and AOT will reimburse up to 80% of the municipality’s documented construction expenses, including in-kind support, for BMPs on hydrologically connected roads. 
Details, documents, and the Initial Funding Offers are available on the AOT website.
Joy Choquette writes from the Franklin County area. Timothy McQuiston contributed to this report.
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