Despite shutdown, work begins on Ames School addition

Deemed an essential activity, construction is exempt for stay-at-home order

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By Bob Skolnik

Contributing Reporter

Construction and site preparation work continue at Ames School in Riverside despite Governor J.B. Pritzker's stay-at-home order that went into effect March 21.

Such work is considered an essential activity and is exempt from the stay-at-home edict, so on Monday workers were on site, preparing it for the brick two- tory addition that is scheduled to be completed by late August.

On March 20, construction officials, including those from Berglund Construction, which is managing all construction projects for Riverside Elementary School District 96, met with city of Chicago officials and representatives from labor unions via conference call after the governor issued his order.

"They reviewed the executive order the governor had sent and determined that they were excluded from the shutdown and the quarantine and they decided to work," said Ramesh Nair, who is overseeing the District 96 construction projects.

Just two days earlier, Nair had told the District 96 school board, which met virtually with no board members physically present, that he expected there would be a pause in all construction work as part of the reaction to the spread of the coronavirus.

"I've never come across a situation like we face today, which is uncertainty about what happens tomorrow," Nair said.

But when construction work was deemed essential, district officials switched gears and were happy that work was continuing, because any significant delay would have made it impossible to complete the addition by the target date of Aug. 20.

A delay would have also resulted in additional costs for the district in paying for the general contractor's overhead.

On Monday, ComEd workers were relocating underground electric lines, while other workers were using bulldozers and backhoes to excavate the site to lay the foundation for the Ames addition.

On March 18, in anticipation of a construction shutdown, Nair cancelled the order of a crane that was supposed to be delivered to Central School late last week. The crane was needed to help build a masonry shaft for a new elevator in the Central School courtyard.

It costs $25,000 to $30,000 a month to rent a crane, and district officials did not want to be paying rent for a crane during a time when they thought that it could not be used.

With construction moving ahead as scheduled, the district is again trying to get the crane to Central, perhaps by the end of this week.

"I asked them to proceed as if there is no work stoppage, but you just don't know," Nair said, adding that he is still worried that a stop work order could come at any time.

"Once we erect it, the clock ticks, there will be a rental charge on it," Nair said. "But without the crane we can't do anything, either, so if the unions are saying they want to work … we can't stop them from working. We have to let them go on until an order comes down from the powers that be saying stop."

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