Schools Shut Down, But Construction Work Continues

“We all work for the same goal: keeping school children safe. And we are doing all we can to protect ourselves, our coworkers and our families. Our fates are intertwined,” said Local 1740 member Lorraine Barcant. Photo: Clarence Elie-Rivera


Building Code Inspector Lorraine Barcant’s job is to keep school buildings safe for the city’s 1.1 million school children and the teachers and support staff that feed, educate and protect them. She visits dozens of school construction sites a month to make sure workers are safe and projects are up to code.

But the coronavirus pandemic upended New York City and led officials in mid-March to shutter schools and later all construction sites citywide to stop the spread of the deadly virus.

Rather than opening new school buildings and visiting sites where workers busily complete renovations and upgrades, Barcant said, “I’m shutting down projects and patrolling empty sites. COVID-19 has turned my job on its head.”

Barcant, the vice president of Local 1740, said social distancing and budget concerns mean a lot of the work can’t go forward.

The people she usually meets with daily, architects to ensure their plans are followed and meet safety codes, coworkers at the School Construction Authority, and the construction managers, contractors and their employees she regularly sees in the field are gone.

“If they are on site it’s because they cannot afford to not work, they need the money,” she said. “I have to send them home.”

Once bustling school construction worksites look bleak. There is no activity. “It’s like a photo negative where everything is completely still,” Barcant said. “The exact opposite of what’s supposed to be.”

The city through the SCA contracts some $18 billion in projects — new construction — upgrades, renovations — many with firms owned by minorities and women.

“These businesses are hurting now,” Barcant noted.

Barcant, like many other DC 37 members, is an essential city worker during the coronavirus pandemic.

Local 1740 President Charles Komlo and the union worked with SCA to provide PPE and to ensure the safety of employees early on in the coronavirus outbreak.

SCA expanded telecommuting to all employees. Barcant said, “Local 2627 members hooked up hundreds of laptops for us to work remotely.”

The local is continuing to collaborate with the agency to address ongoing COVID-19  related issues and protect workers.

SCA’s in-house construction and design teams are involved in work projects at the DOE’s 1,700 schools. They build new schools and annexes that help reduce overcrowding and ensure that kids have safer classrooms, lunchrooms, playgrounds, gymnasiums and more.

In late April, Local 1740 members were tasked with overseeing converting some SCA projects like pre-K’s to COVID testing sites.

Local 1740 is coordinating with Board of Education Employees Local 372, Civil Service Technical Guild Local 375, and construction trades on shared safety concerns.

Barcant said, “We all work for the same goal: keeping school children safe. And we are doing all we can to protect ourselves, our coworkers and our families. Our fates are intertwined.”

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