Jim Kelly, president of Construction Partnership, which works with unions that represent 1,700 people working on commercial projects, said local construction has been hurt by the pandemic but the blow is not as damaging as other industries.

“Construction workers were seen as somewhat essential workers,” said Kelly. “Some states have completely stopped construction, which would have been devastating for us here.”

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However, the COVID-19 pandemic has put many large-scale projects on hold, and about 20 to 30 percent of those in the construction partnership have been laid off.

“About 30 to 40 percent of our work was interrupted. Now it’s starting to turn on again, ”said Tom Leimer, general manager of Knutson Construction’s Rochester office. “It’s better than what it was and we’re building our way back.”

His team is 80 to 90 percent normal now, and more people are being hired every week.

As this construction freezes, it thaws. Kelly estimates that total construction employment is now 10 to 15 percent below normal.

“Right now, the future looks pretty bright, especially with the projects the Mayo Clinic is running,” he said this week.

Construction of the new elementary school on Wednesday March 17, 2021, in northwest Rochester continues. (Joe Ahlquist / jahlquist@postbulletin.com)

The Mayo Clinic represents 50 to 60 percent of all commercial construction projects.

An expansion of the Saint Marys campus is in the final phase. At the corner of Third Street and Fourth Avenue Southwest, work is in progress on the 64,000 square meter Anna-Maria and Stephen Kellen research center. More insiders at the Mayo Clinic say unnamed projects are expected to lay the groundwork in the near future.

Construction projects at Rochester Public Schools are busy. A new middle school and a new elementary school are being built. The rebuilding of Harriet Bishop and Longfellow’s elementary schools and several large swimming pool projects are on the way.

The private sector is also returning. One of the largest local projects is MA Mortenson Co.’s multi-million dollar Two Discovery Square complex being built downtown in the Destination Medical Center zone. The center, which will be connected to the original One Discovery Square building, was recently rounded off by its steel frame.

A challenging side effect of the COVID-19 pandemic has been how it has driven prices up for almost all building materials. The cost of everything from plywood to wood to steel has skyrocketed.

“That was an interesting turn,” said Leimer.

Tom Leimer, March 18, 2021

Tom Leimer, March 18, 2021Submitted

The added difficulty of getting steel on time has forced Knutson to rethink using beams to support the roofs of some of his buildings under construction. That means shifting the design so that beams are used instead to keep construction on schedule and on budget.

Olmsted County’s building permits tell the story of the steady recovery, with numbers rising but not yet back to 2019 levels.

On the housing side, things are recovering much more slowly despite the demand for more homes.

The permits for single-family homes reached a six-year low in 2020. Only 266 were filed in Olmsted County, compared to 289 in 2019, 347 in 2018, and 429 in 2017.

However, the first two months of 2021 are showing signs of improvement. Before the pandemic, 30 single-family permits were submitted in January and February 2020. In 2021, a total of 31 permits were submitted for the same months.

This compares to 2019 with just 11 single family permits filed in January and February. In the same period, 35 permits were submitted in 2018.

Construction of the new elementary school on Wednesday March 17, 2021, in northwest Rochester continues.  (Joe Ahlquist / jahlquist@postbulletin.com)

Construction of the new elementary school on Wednesday March 17, 2021, in northwest Rochester continues. (Joe Ahlquist / jahlquist@postbulletin.com)