Construction season slow off the mark
Work should pick up later
By Chris Woodall
The bad news for construction trades is that Whistler's construction season is not exactly teeming with activity this spring.
The good news from the municipal building department and several Whistler companies is that it'll get busy soon.
"There's a little bit of concern out there," says Nigel Woods of Coastal Mountain Excavations, since 1977 a Whistler landmark of local construction companies.
Worries about the province's economy in general have been expressed by building tradesmen and women in Whistler, Woods says.
The slower pace of house or other residential sales has kept some projects out of the starting blocks, says John Benbow of Benbow Construction.
"This'll be one of those late start years," Benbow says. "There's a lot of stuff on the market now from condos to high-end residential houses."
But even at that, Benbow has a feeling that actual numbers of residential sales are holding firm with past years although an over-all percentage of sales may be smaller because of the larger number of available units for sale.
The seven-year-old residential custom construction company isn't hurting for projects. "I've got things on my desk that are bona fide contracts, but the people are waiting to see what happens in the residential marketplace" before giving Benbow the go-ahead.
In some cases, the project customer wants to sell his old property and use the proceeds to kickstart the new project, Benbow says.
The pause hasn't affected his employees.
"I haven't cut my staff at all," Benbow says of his five full-timers. "They're tackling the renovation side of my business."
Coastal Mountain Excavations says the same thing.
"We're back at pretty much a full staff, but we haven't hired any new people," Woods says of the company's 30 employees.
The province and the municipality could stop-gap lapses in work for trades by initiating a variety of projects, Woods says.
"There's a lot of areas of things that could be done but aren't, such as road work," Woods says.
If the current quiet on the construction front were to continue, it would be the third down turn in Whistler's history, says Whistler dispatcher Dan Wall of Cardinal Concrete.
The other recessions were at the beginning and midpoint of the 1980s.
The company’s Function Junction plant has been here since 1980. When going full tilt, Cardinal has 20 drivers for its 16 trucks.
"Our junior guys are at home waiting for a call," Wall says of the lack of work.
"Everything is just slow starting," echoes municipal building clerk Mary Prade.
"May's strong," she says of activity through her office as companies arrange permits needed to get going.
While May's numbers are still coming in, a year-to-year look at April tells part of the tale.
Value of construction this April is $4.7 million, compared to $16.4 million in April a year ago.
But don't look too closely at those numbers or you'll just freak yourself out, suggest municipal staff.
Permits are issued depending on the pace of the project, "so fees month to month are all over the map," Prade says.
Building fees collected in March and April, 1996 — a year Whistler collected nearly $200 million in building fees — were of smaller amounts than those collected in the same months this year.
Fees payments in May, 1996, flooded the office compared to relatively quiet Mays in other years.
And looking for a hint at construction trends based on the value of permits or fees paid doesn't indicate the scope of the work being done, says Prade.
"The Westin Hotel (at the Village base of Whistler Mountain) has months and months of excavation work before they start to build," she says.
Other projects initiated even two years ago are still under construction this