Construction Workers Get Back to Work at U Michigan

Construction sites in Michigan that were under state shutdown orders are starting work again — including at the University of Michigan. The institution has begun working with state officials to crank up activities on multiple projects, including new construction and renovation and addition work.

The work is now allowed under Gov. Gretchen Whitmer's recent executive order, No. 2020-70, allowing construction businesses, along with real estate activity and other outdoor jobs, to reopen as of May 7. Construction work across the state was halted March 24 under the "Stay Home, Stay Safe" executive order.

"The measures put in place by [previous] executive orders have been effective: The number of new confirmed cases each day has started to drop," the governor wrote in her rescission order. "Although the virus remains aggressive and persistent — on April 30, 2020, Michigan reported 41,379 confirmed cases and 3,789 deaths — the strain on our health care system has begun to relent, even as our testing capacity has increased. We can now start the process of gradually resuming in-person work and activities that were temporarily suspended under my prior orders."

The university will be following new state guidelines intended to protect workers and continue the reduction of the spread of COVID-19. Those include designating site supervisors to enforce COVID-19 control strategies; creating dedicated entry points, where workers are screened daily for health status; identifying high-risk areas, such as hallways, hoists and elevators, break areas, water stations and buses, and controlling them to enable physical distancing; and setting up hand-washing or hand-sanitizing stations at the worksite.

Projects expected to resume on the Ann Arbor campus include:

  • Completion of The Ford Motor Co. Robotics Building, which was within five weeks of being finished when the shutdown began.
  • Construction of a new 24,000-square-foot Department of Dance building, originally scheduled for completion in spring 2021.
  • Construction of a central campus classroom building, intended to provide 1,400 classroom seats for student learning in active learning spaces; and renovation of the Alexander G. Ruthven Building, which will house the university's central administration. Those were scheduled to be done in fall 2021.
  • Renovation and expansion of the Edward Henry Kraus Building and the Dental W.K. Kellogg Institute Building.

One project no longer on the roster is a new $920 million 12-story inpatient facility for Michigan Medicine. Aside from ensuring the construction site is safe for a prolonged delay, that will be put on hold.

In an Apr. 20, 2020 update to the campus community President Mark Schlissel said the university faces severe financial losses. "Our best estimate is that the university, including all three campuses and Michigan Medicine, currently faces anticipated losses of $400 million to $1 billion through the end of the calendar year," Schlissel wrote. That forecast put in motion a reevaluation of all construction projects.

About the Author

Dian Schaffhauser is a former senior contributing editor for 1105 Media's education publications THE Journal, Campus Technology and Spaces4Learning.