As in the rest of the nation, construction activity in Idaho’s capital city of Boise has struggled with declining state funds and ultra-tight credit markets.
“Like everywhere else, there are not a lot of projects to build,” says Bryan Whipple, president of Interior Systems Inc. of Boise and a member of the board of directors for the Idaho Associated General Contractors. “Our approach to dealing with it is traveling to work in other locations and having to adjust our pricing structure in order to be more competitive.
“There are a lot of bidders on every project, and it’s gotten to the point where you sometimes have to buy the job. Just about every job we want to get, we have to be prepared to do it at or below cost to have any chance.”
Burke Hansen, COO of general contractor Hansen-Rice Inc. of Nampa, and 2010 president of the Idaho AGC, agrees that times are tough. “Everyone is working hard, but bid lists are long,” he says. “The public sector is definitely stronger than the private market right now.”
Hansen, whose firm builds projects primarily for private companies and does much of its work outside the Boise area, says it is simply a matter of time before banks begin lending money to responsible developers and owners.
Hansen says his goal as president of Idaho AGC is to keep members apprised of the great services offered by the association and help their collective firms weather the challenges of competing in difficult economic times.
“We’re trying to keep member services strong, from our plan rooms to the health benefit trust to our safety program,” he says. “I think (financing) could start loosening up at the tail end of this year or first of next year. We hope for the best, but it’s hard to tell what will happen.”
One sector in the Boise area that has seen activity is heavy-highway, with several key projects currently under construction along Interstate 84, the major highway through the city.
Reed Hollinshead, public information specialist with the Idaho Dept. of Transportation, says the widening of I-84 is vital to accommodate the growth of the Boise region.
There are five significant projects along I-84 within, or just outside, Boise. They include the $17.8-million Vista Avenue Interchange project by Central Paving Co. Inc. of Boise; Orchard Street Interchange by McAlvain Construction; the $33.8-million Ten Mile Road Interchange by Staker Parson Cos., dba Idaho Sand and Gravel; the $15-million Garrity Boulevard Interchange Bridge Widening by Concrete Placing Co.; and the $4.1-million 11th Avenue Underpass by McAlvain Construction.
“All of the projects going on along I-84, mainly bridge work, are necessary for widening the freeway itself,” Hollinshead says. “Contractors have to widen abutments and make space needed for the roadway.”
The projects are being funded primarily by the state’s Grant Anticipation Revenue Vehicle program, which allows for highway projects to be funded now, with the hope that money will become available through future federal and state programs, Hollinshead says.
He adds that all of the projects are low-bid jobs. “The last two years, it’s been a very competitive bid environment,” he says. We’re pleasantly surprised (projects) are coming in consistently under what we had projected. It’s a benefit to us as a department, and taxpayers get more bang for the buck.”
Design firms working in and around Boise are also struggling.
“Right now, most architectural firms are trying to ride through this storm,” says Bruce Poe, president of Boise-based Modus Architecture. “We just don’t have access to financing. Until banks’ attitudes change, I don’t see things changing.”
Poe, who founded the Idaho chapter of the U.S. Green Building Council, says minor tenant-improvement projects are about all there is to chase. “As far as major projects, there are none to be had,” he adds. “We’re finding projects of short duration and getting as many as we can.”
Agencies like the state Dept. of Public Works are waiting for the Idaho State Legislature (still in session at press time) to wrap up its 2010 session before knowing exactly how much money they’ll have to spend this year.
Barry Miller, senior project manager for Idaho DPW, says his division is hoping to get $18 million for renovation/alteration/repair projects.
Larger projects, such as the proposed $27-million College of Business and Economics at Boise State University, are in the works primarily because of private donations, but even those are down across the board.
“(Boise State University) is expanding rapidly, but they’re also trying to find other funding sources to help them get additional facilities,” Miller says. “It’s just a matter of getting our state’s revenue stream back up.”