Pandemic's impact on building stats as yet unknown

Kamloops is coming off a third consecutive record year in construction. How those numbers shake out this year depends on how long the economy lags during and after the COVID-19 crisis

In the first quarter of 2020, the city’s building stats outpaced last year’s record-breaking numbers. What the next months look like amid the novel coronavirus pandemic, however, remains to be seen. The city’s development manager, Jason Dixon, said the reality of COVID-19 was not realized until late March and, as such, is not reflected in the numbers. Since then, he said, inspections and applications are down “slightly” and one residential development permit for an apartment building in North Kamloops was cancelled.

“I think it would be probably foolish to think it wasn’t going to have any impact at all,” Dixon said. “I have no idea how much of an impact it will have.”

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March was steady compared to the same month last year.

Last month, 103 building permits, worth $16.9 million, were issued, compared to 109 permits worth $16.3 million issued in March of 2019. Though the numbers were by and large the same year over year, this March saw more residential permits issued — 40 permits worth $15.8 million, versus 36 permits worth $7.1 million in 2019.

Dixon noted the difference was a $6.2-million 64-unit apartment building on McGill Road, across from Thompson Rivers University, and a foundation permit for another apartment building on Van Horne Drive in Aberdeen.

Heading into a new quarter, several factors are at play in forecasting how and whether the pandemic will impact development.

Despite myriad restrictions in place in British Columbia with respect to physical distancing and preventing the spread of the novel coronavirus, construction is allowed under guidance of provincial health officials.

Still, for work to continue, healthy workers are required.

Another potential mitigating factor, Dixon noted, is that by the time projects hit the city’s building department, they have been worked on for a year or longer.

Asked about the impacts of a recession, Dixon said it remains unclear, noting the 2008 Great Recession, wasn’t felt as badly in Kamloops as it was in other areas.

“Not to belittle how hard it was in 2008 for folks, but I don’t think we had it quite as hard as other areas,” he said.

“This one, we just don’t know because we don’t know how long it’s going to last. We talk about a recession — is this going to be a recession that is a point in time, where everything will start to rebound? Or is it going to be a recession where we continue at that depressed level? I have no idea, honestly. I hope it’s just a point in time and that it’s not too long and we can get back to some sense of what feels normal. We’ll have to rely on the province and health officials for that.”

The city’s development department has been closed to the public, but is accepting appointments. Dixon said the city is trying to maintain normalcy for builders as it works its way through its queues, which remain lengthy. The city’s building industry accounts for a large number of workers. For permits, Dixon said, the city has adjusted its processes. Inspections, meanwhile, continue as business as usual.

“It is slowing down a little bit, but we’re still getting applications, we’re still doing inspections,” Dixon said. “The inspection list is probably each day slightly smaller than it would be this time of year, normally, but we’re still trying to look at the list.”

Dixon said the city’s numbers will continue to benefit from larger projects, such as the Royal Inland Hospital and Valleyview secondary expansions and a new Parkcrest elementary to replace the building that was destroyed by fire last September.

“I think from a construction value point of view, we’ve said all along, we’ve got the hospital project going. That’s continuing. We’ll see some big permits, I think, through the course of this year for that project. Things like the Valleyview secondary school project, I anticipate that project will continue work.”

Through the first quarter (January through March) of 2020, the city has issued 318 permits worth $46.7 million, compared to 260 permits worth $32.3 million in the first quarter of 2019.

Last year’s building-permit total — $288.3 million — was the third consecutive record year, following 2018 ($285 million) and 2017 ($224 million).

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