Earlier this year, tile destined for the terminal floor at the Juneau International Airport spent two extra and unexpected months at sea.
The tile was one of many items in ships full of goods sitting off California’s coast waiting for crews to unload them at the Port of Los Angeles as the nation grapples with supply chain issues, material shortages and a labor crunch that has stymied construction projects across the country.
According to local business and civic leaders, Juneau’s private and municipal construction projects are no exception to the snarls as crews face delays, make substitutions and grapple with higher prices.
“There have been delays all over,” said Lee Kadinger, chief of operations for Sealaska Heritage Institute. “We are now back on track, and moving right along,” he said.
SHI broke ground on a downtown construction project to build a Northwest Coast arts campus in the summer of 2020 and hopes to host an inaugural class in the facility later this year.
Kadinger said a grand opening is tentatively scheduled for summer 2022 after some finishing touches, such as a totem pole, are added in the spring.
“We’ve been fortunate,” he said in a phone interview earlier this week. “We bought out our supplies earlier in the project so most delays were associated with materials purchased many, many months ago.”
But, he said, his team planned for delays and made purchases early on.
“I anticipated delays,” he said, noting that empty store shelves early in the pandemic prompted him to take potential shortages into consideration when the project began.
“It was part of our strategy to secure what we needed as early as possible. Better to have it here and store it in the yard than to have staff stand around waiting for things,” he said.
In addition to material issues, Kadinger said labor shortages presented a challenge.
“Holy cow, contractors can’t find enough staff to do the jobs. One of the big things is you have an older, retiring workforce and there’s not the pipeline of new people to become electricians or plumbers. They are feeling the pressure,” he said.
City projects postponed
Material delays have thwarted progress on municipal projects planned by the City and Borough of Juneau this year, resulting in delays to planned work.
“Material shortages have been a significant challenge for CBJ’s 2021 construction season,” John Bohan, chief engineer for the city, told the Public Works and Facilities committee in a memo last month.
Bohan said that affected projects include upgrades to the Channel Drive and Channel Vista Sewer Pump Stations, the Gruening Park Sewer Pump Station replacement work, the first phase of reconstruction of Tongass Boulevard and Crest Street Reconstruction.
“A number of the projects already bid and scheduled for 2021 construction have been delayed because of issues obtaining construction materials and getting them delivered to Juneau in a timely manner,” he said.
Material type matters
Kadinger said that delay times have varied based on material type.
For example, he said that the pavers designed to go out in front of the building just arrived last week, despite being ordered in January.
Patty Wahto, airport manager, said that shortages had forced them to make a handful of material substitutions.
“Corian for countertops is evidently very scarce, but generic versions of Corian are not,” Wahto said in an email.
Bohan said that the availability of plastic pipe for sewer, storm drain and drinking water has been constrained along with precast concrete structures such as sewer manholes, storm drain manholes and catch basins. Valves and electrical components are also limited, he said.
Wahto said that a wait for lighting and electrical components caused some delays on the taxiway work, but the project is now back on track.
Steel in short supply
Kadinger said that getting parts made of steel is the most vexing of all the material shortages. He said that bar joists are in exceptionally tight supply.
According to a YouTube video produced by Auburn University’s Center for Construction and Innovation, steel bar joists are used as a structural component to frame floors and windows.
“Bar joists have a 22-month lead time right now,” Kadinger said. “It’s normally two to three months.”
Kadinger said he’s hearing that part of the delay stems from Amazon’s efforts to build warehouses around the country.
The delays might lead to a redesign of the canopy outside the building, he said.
“We can’t even get bar joists,” Kadinger said. “But, if we could, the price would be considerably more than 18 months ago.”
Kadinger speculated that part of the scarcity and price increases stem from other construction projects making adjustments as prices and availability fluctuate.
“When wood prices shot up, everyone changed to steel and metal. When everyone started using that, the price of wood changed,” he said.