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Bend construction still going strong, despite pandemic

(Update: added quotes and video)

BEND, Ore. (KTVZ) -- Construction in Bend is showing little sign of slowing, according to the city, so officials who oversee and regulate that work are adjusting to handle the workload and still follow the governor's directives.

Over a month has passed since the World Health Organization declared the COVID-19 outbreak a pandemic. The city of Bend said Tuesday its Community Development Department has not seen a significant change in construction activity, despite the changing economic climate.

“The construction industry is a significant contributor to the Bend economy, and the city is committed to maintaining operations throughout the duration of the pandemic,” said Russell Grayson, CDD director. “We are closely watching projects and key economic indicators.”

"We've seen a lot of residential still going and the commercial projects in town, are still continuing to go. We're just watching really closely whats going on with the market as we continue to move through the months ahead."

Gov. Kate Brown’s “Stay Home, Save Lives,” order (Executive Order 20-12) Brown specifically exempted the construction industry, identifying it as an economic pillar to the state.

City Hall is closed to the public, and more than 75 percent of Community Development Department employees are working in new remote environments. But the Building, Planning and Engineering Divisions are maintaining normal output.

“In an average month, our Building Division will see around 400 building applications. In March, we received 393 applications, and we project only a slight drop in that number for April,” Grayson said. Other divisions are seeing similar statistics. Engineering had even more applications in March than in an average month.

Maintaining operations at the same level as before the pandemic has encouraged city staff to use innovative ways to meet applicant needs.

“Our Inspections team has developed options for maintaining physical distancing for on-site inspections, including virtual options which allow staff to inspect structures off-site,” Grayson said.

Karna Gustafson, vice president of government affairs for Central Oregon Builders Association says while COVID safety requirements are in place at these sites its important that the construction industry is maintained because it provides jobs for the community.

"It's been extremely beneficial that construction is able to continue provided that construction provides a lot of jobs," Gustafson said. [They're] very living wage jobs for people and it's important that work continues, we do still have a housing shortage. So we need to continue to build housing to meet supply." 

Other divisions are using an electronic review process for applications, which was in place prior to the pandemic.

For applicants requiring a more public process, such as hearings with the Planning Commission and City Council, city staff have identified an effective virtual platform they plan to implement in May that will continue to allow for public involvement and input.

“If we can find innovative ways to keep projects moving without compromising the integrity of the city processes and standards, we will,” Grayson said.

May is Building Safety Month, and this year, “safety” has some new considerations.

Gov. Brown’s order encouraged contractors to incorporate COVID-19 safety planning and worksite-specific safety practices. The city said it "recognizes that safe work environments ensure a healthy workforce, a healthy workforce means maintained output and maintained output will determine the health of our local economy as we recover from the COVID-19 pandemic."

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