Archive for February, 2011

City seeks 6 for Construction Codes Advisory Board

Friday, February 25th, 2011

Here’s your chance to have an effect on the local building and design professions, and to contribute to Seattle’s built environment. But, you have to act by Tuesday to be considered for one of the six open positions on the city’s Construction Codes Advisory Board.

For the board openings, the city is seeking an architect, general contractor, electrical contractor, commercial building owner or operator, developer or contractor of residential projects, and representative of organized labor. Board members serve renewable, three-year terms.

The board advises the city’s Department of Planning and Development on the development of the Seattle building, residential, mechanical, electrical, energy and boiler codes. It also hears appeals of DPD decisions. It meets at noon on the first and third Thursdays of the month.

To be considered, send a letter of interest and resume by Tuesday (March 1) to Mayor Mike McGinn c/o Maureen Traxler, Department of Planning and Development, 700 Fifth Ave., Suite 2000, P.O. Box 34019, Seattle, WA 98124 4019. Traxler can also be reached at Maureen.traxler@seattle.gov or (206) 233-3892.

Watch Hanford stacks fall — in your face

Friday, February 18th, 2011

The U.S. Department of Energy today felled a pair of 250-foot-tall exhaust stacks at Hanford. A pair of 50-foot baghouses also came down with the stacks. But wait, there’s more. A 140-foot-tall water tower was also toppled.

$1.6 million in federal stimulus funds paid for the demolition project. The team included CH2M Hill, Clauss Construction and Controlled Demolition.

Check out the video:

UPDATE!
Check out Round 2, which blew up identical facilities on March 4:

Latest Chinese import: construction workers?

Thursday, February 17th, 2011

The Wall Street Journal reports that a $3.4 billion hotel, casino and resort in the Bahamas will break ground on Monday with the help of two unlikely partners: China State Construction Engineering Corp. and the Export-Import Bank of China.

The Journal says the project in Nassau will be the largest property to be built and partly owned by a Chinese company outside of China.

Money appears to be at the heart of the matter — the Export-Import Bank is providing a $2.5 billion loan for the project. Part of that financing deal allows China State Construction to take a $150 million equity stake and “import” 8,000 construction workers to build the resort.

It’s not the first time Chinese workers have been “imported” for a construction project in North America. China State Construction recently renovated the Alexander Hamilton Bridge in New York City and built a new Metro-North train platform at Yankee Stadium.

I don’t know what those 8,000 workers will be getting paid in Nassau, but I bet it will be less than what a crew from North America would cost.

That couldn’t bode well for U.S. construction workers, who face 20 percent unemployment and developers looking to save on project costs amid a tough financing environment.

Is there more to come?

The Journal says the Chinese government is encouraging homeland companies to go abroad to help diversify China’s $2.85 trillion foreign-exchange reserves and reduce its reliance on the greenback.

The 1,000-acre Bahamas project would have 2,250 hotel rooms, a 100,000-square-foot casino and an 18-hole golf course.

Green construction special out today

Thursday, February 17th, 2011

The DJC’s annual Building Green special section is out today.

In it, you can find out which two Seattle projects have “net-zero” water goals, how parking lots can be green, and how waterfronts are becoming showplaces for sustainable development. The section has 11 articles relevant to the local green building industry.

Check it out, you don’t need to be an online subscriber to view it!

As if things were bad enough, now inflation?

Wednesday, February 16th, 2011

Some economists have been warning that, as if things weren’t bad enough, there was the threat of inflation. When the U.S. Bureau of Engraving and Printing starts up its presses to print more money for legislators to spend, can inflation not be far behind? Others said there were enough countervailing forces to keep inflation at bay.

Now according to a recent report from ABC’s Chief Economist Anirban Basu, those who predicted inflation may have been right. Or maybe it’s just a response to increasing demand as construction starts to come back.
In a sign that inflation may have arrived, prices for construction materials rose by 0.9 percent in January – the fourth straight monthly increase. This, according to the February 16 Producer Price Index (PPI) report by the Department of Labor. Inputs to construction industry prices are 4.9 percent higher from January 2010. (See Analysis below)

Iron and steel prices jumped 4.7 percent in January and are up 16.4 percent over the last twelve months. Softwood lumber prices increased by 3.6 percent for the month and are up 8.7 percent year-over-year. Steel mill product prices went up 2 percent for the month and are up 11.5 percent from the same time last year. Prices for fabricated structural metal products posted the largest monthly increase since August 2008, up 1.2 percent in January and up 4 percent from the same time last year. Prices for plumbing fixtures and fittings inched up 0.3 percent for the month and are up 1.4 percent year-over-year. Prices for prepared asphalt, tar roofing, and siding increased by 0.1 percent for the month and are up 3.6 percent from January 2010.
Non-ferrous wire and cable prices decreased for the first time since last July, down 0.8 percent in January, but still 9.1 percent higher from the same time last year. Concrete product prices slipped 0.8 percent in January, and are unchanged year-over-year.
Crude energy material prices increased by 1.9 percent in January, but are down 4.3 percent from the same time last year. Overall, total wholesale goods prices were up 0.8 percent in January and are up 3.6 percent from January 2010.

Analysis
“It may be that the inflation people have been predicting for months is finally here,” said Associated Builders and Contractor Chief Economist Anirban Basu. “Energy prices rose again, but the bigger story revolves around the broadening of inflation in other categories.
“For example, the price increase of steel and softwood lumber prices accelerated last month. There are a number of potential explanations for these price hikes including an ongoing global economic recovery led by nations such as China, India, Brazil and Indonesia,” said Basu.
“But the profound monthly increases are driven by more than global expansion. Since the announcement by the Federal Reserve in early November of the creation of several hundreds of billions of dollars of additional money supply, some investors have been extricating themselves from the U.S. bond market,” Basu said. “While some of this money has likely transitioned to equity markets, in part explaining the rebound of stock prices, it is likely that some of this money has entered the commodity space. This has resulted in rapidly rising material prices.
“For construction contractors, this puts additional downward pressure on already thin profit margins. With the cost of construction rising in many instances, developers and others may choose to further delay construction starts. This, of course, represents bad news for an industry already associated with an unemployment rate above 20 percent and spending volumes that are nearly 25 percent below late-2008 levels. The hope is that speculators will not continue to pour money into commodities and that material prices will be better behaved in the months ahead,” said Basu.

Lock Box Needed for Public Works Trust Fund

Tuesday, February 15th, 2011

“As the construction industry goes, so goes our state budget.”

That sentence was delivered by Gov. Gregoire during the State of the State address.  She added: “Jobs are the way out of the recession, especially in one of the hardest hit areas — the construction sector. Through the capital and transportation budgets and the Public Works Trust Fund, we can start shovel-ready projects, modernize our infrastructure and put almost 40,000 people to work.”

Construction groups are working hard to convince the Legislature to share the Governor’s insight and provide adequate funding to address infrastructure needs and to spur private development.   This article takes a look at the Public Works Trust Fund (PWFT).

The PWTF was created in 1985 to provide low-interest loans and technical assistance to local governments for public works projects – many that could not otherwise be financed and built by small communities themselves. The PWTF is a particular focus this year because the Legislature gutted the fund in the last biennial budget, taking nearly all of the funds and transferring them to the operating budget to shrink the deficit. 

Many are concerned that should the Legislature do that again, it would mean a total of four years without funding for local projects and a possible death knell for the fund.  That would be a major loss for the state, as the PWTF has provided more than 2,000 loans totaling more than $2.2 billion since its inception.  According to an economic analysis conducted by the University of Washington for AGC, that $2.2 billion investment has generated an additional $4 billion in economic activity.  Plus, the PWTF supports many local stormwater and sewer projects necessary to meet the state’s Puget Sound clean-up goals.

The Governor proposed $386 million for the PWTF within her Capital Budget proposal, maintaining overall the current level of investment, which is one-third smaller than the 2007-2009 Capital Budget.  The industry needs to work to hold onto the PWTF funding throughout the budget process, but the temptation for the Legislature to reduce it or zero it out altogether will be significant, as the state faces a $4.6 billion shortfall in the 2011-2013 biennial budget.  Many legislators have expressed their support for PWTF funding, including three who penned this Seattle Times opinion piece.

More background on the PWTF:  Its core mission is to help local governments—mainly cities, counties, PUDs and water and sewer districts—pay for basic infrastructure projects: water and wastewater systems; streets, roads and bridges; and solid-waste and recycling projects.  The PWTF, which is administered by the Public Works Board, seeks to require and encourage better capital facilities planning by local governments as part of receiving financial help from the state, and reward good infrastructure management by giving extra credit to applicants demonstrating good management practices.

In addition to loan repayments—at interest rates ranging from 0.25 to 2 percent per year—the trust fund receives revenue from four state tax sources related to the types of infrastructure aided by the fund: 6.1 percent of the revenue from the real estate excise tax, 20 percent of the revenue from the water utility excise tax, 60 percent of sewerage collection tax revenues, and all the revenue from the state tax on solid waste service.  About half of the PWTF’s account comes from the loan repayments, about half from the dedicated taxes. 

The $386 million in loans proposed by the Governor supports $1.8 billion in projects, generating $3.5 billion in added economic activity and supporting more than 28,000 jobs.  The beauty of it is that it’s already paid for – all we ask is that the Legislature not steal the money!

Fire alarm systems fail to alert monitoring centers

Tuesday, February 8th, 2011

About 540 Simplex fire alarm control panels are being recalled because they can fail to alert monitoring centers when there is a fire. The units were made by Tyco Safety Products of Westminster, Mass., and distributed last year from May to September by SimplexGrinnell. They cost between $10,000 and $20,000.

There have been two cases where the system failed.

Recalls affect the Simplex 4100U-NXP panel configured for third party monitoring with software revision 14.01. The words “Simplex,” “4100U” and “Fire Control” appear on the fire alarm’s front panel. The software revision number can be identified by pressing the “Menu” key on the panel keypad, selecting “Show Software Revision Level” and pressing “Enter.”

Building managers should contact SimplexGrinnell for a free software upgrade at (866) 565-6322 or www.simplexgrinnell.com.

DeVilbiss air compressors can catch on fire

Thursday, February 3rd, 2011

DeVilbiss Air Power Co. of Jackson, Tenn., is recalling about 460,000 air compressors because their motors can overheat and catch on fire. DeVilbiss has received nine reports of overheating and three reports of fire damaging surrounding property. No injuries have been reported.

The compressors vary in tank size from 3 gallons to 25 gallons and carry the Craftsman, Delta Shopmaster, DeVilbiss, Husky and Porter-Cable brand names. They sold from January 2003 through December 2004 at home centers nationwide, and from September 2000 through December 2005 at Sears stores. They were priced between $199 and $229.

The following were affected:

Brand Model Number Tank Tank
Color
Manufacture
Date Range
Craftsman 919-16644 15 gal. vertical Red 5/2004 – 3/2005
Craftsman 919-16724 15 gal. horizontal Red 9/2000 – 3/2003
Craftsman 919-16724-1 15 gal. horizontal Red 9/2002 – 12/2003
Craftsman 919-16724-2 15 gal. horizontal Red 7/2003 – 5/2005
Craftsman 919-16724-3 15 gal. horizontal Red 5/2004 – 1/2005
Craftsman 919-16725 15 gal. horizontal Red 12/2002 – 12/2003
Craftsman 919-16725-1 15 gal. horizontal Red 7/2003 – 8/2004
Porter-Cable C2000-WK 6 gal. pancake Red 1/2004 – 5/2004
Porter-Cable C3001 4 gal. stacked Red 1/2004 – 7/2004
Delta Shopmaster CP503 12 gal. horizontal Gray 6/2002 – 3/2003
Delta Shopmaster CP503-1 12 gal. horizontal Gray 5/2003 – 3/2004
DeVilbiss Impact Series HFAC 3030 3 gal. horizontal Blue 1/2003 – 7/2004
Husky Y6010-WK 25 gal. vertical Red 2/2003 – 9/2003
Husky Y6010-WK-1 25 gal. vertical Red 7/2003 – 9/2003
Husky Y6020-WK 25 gal. vertical Red 5/2003 – 3/2004

Consumers should stop using the machines and call DeVilbiss at (866) 220-5627 between 8 a.m. and 5 p.m. ET on weekdays, or visit www.porter-cable.com or www.devap.com. Those with Craftsman units should call Sears at (888) 279-8013 between 7 a.m. and 9 p.m. CT on weekdays and 7 a.m. to 6 p.m. on Saturday, or visit www.sears.com.

A free inspection and repair will be made.

Locations of model numbers and manufacture dates.

Remembering Sellen’s Bill Scott

Tuesday, February 1st, 2011

Would be remiss not to note the January 20 passing of William N. Scott, the former Chairman of Sellen Construction. Mr. Scott was lauded at a gathering in his honor on Sunday by many who knew and worked with and for him in his nearly half century at Sellen. His influence on the direction and culture of the organization he headed for many years was repeatedly acknowledged, including by those who have succeeded to leadership at Sellen in the two generations that have followed his time. Speakers repeatedly cited that Mr. Scott was a mentor to them, and more importantly, a teacher. And despite not having spent nearly the time with Mr. Scott that those speakers did, I knew exactly what they meant.

Mr. Scott (I never felt qualified to call him by his first name) was a gigantic figure in the Seattle construction community for decades, which is why he was one of the first class of inductees into the UW Northwest Construction Hall of Fame in 1995. As nice a man as he was, his experience and the deference that he commanded was awfully intimidating to me when I became a young “assistant project manager” (translation: know-nothing kid who lucked into a job) at Sellen in the mid-1980s. But even though I was firmly entrenched on the lowest level of the Sellen org chart, Mr. Scott always made sure that I knew I was part of the team.

In 1986, Sellen bid the Husky Stadium renovation project. I worked the bid room that day, and Mr. Scott was right in the middle of the process, having brought his ever-present lucky coin and rabbit’s foot to the bid room, and working closely with bid “quarterback” (the late, great) Scott Greenwood to hone Sellen’s price. I was with current Sellen CEO Bob McCleskey at the bid opening, where we were devastated to finish second, just $20,000 higher than Lydig Construction on the more than $16 million price.

Fast forward to the following February. Mr. Scott heard that our family was planning a trip to Maui, where he and Mrs. Scott had a home. Despite my lowly position in the company, he and Mrs. Scott insisted that we join them one evening for cocktails. We arrived at the appointed time, and Mr. Scott pulled the door open with a flourish, a sly grin on his face. He was holding that day’s edition of the Honolulu Star-Bulletin, which on the front page showed a photo of the pile of twisted steel that had been the north Husky Stadium grandstand under construction. It had collapsed the previous day.

However, rather than focusing on Lydig’s unfortunate problem, Mr. Scott made our cocktail hour a learning time for me. He talked about the possible causes of the accident, and how he felt it might have been avoided. And, he recounted what he felt were important differences between Sellen’s bid and Lydig’s, including telling me of the approaches to building the job that he and Sellen’s management had discussed, and how that informed the way Sellen chose to bid.

On Sunday, as I listened to those who knew him much better than I recount how much they had learned from Mr. Scott, I recalled our Maui cocktail hour, now nearly 24 years ago. And, it dawned on me that I have repeatedly applied the things he told me on that single long-ago evening, especially about really thinking a project through before putting a price on it. And so, I join the long-line of others in celebrating Bill Scott’s life, and like them, express gratitude for his influence on mine.