MINNEAPOLIS-Several construction projects in Minneapolis and nearby suburbs are going back to the drawing board, after some of their materials failed a fire protection certification.
The issue was raised by construction trade union officials, and they held a press conference about the matter near one of the work sites Monday, July 25.
"The framing for these projects ... is rapidly nearing completion," said Dan McConnell, business manager with the Minneapolis Building and Construction Trades Council. "It's being done with lower cost lumber that's not properly treated to retard flames. This profit-padding tactic creates risk that threatens the projects and anyone that inhabits them or their neighbors."
Three of the projects are being built by Big-D Construction, based in Salt Lake City, a "non-signatory" construction manager-one that has declined to agree to union-only subcontractor labor.
Big-D vice president and managing director Chris Gryzbowski said his company was buying pre-fabricated building components from a company in Hugo-also a non-union shop-and a supplier had incorrectly certified that some of the lumber had been treated to resist fire.
That's a safety factor meant to prolong the structural integrity of buildings in the event of fire. The Hugo company, JL Schwieters, did not immediately return a call about the matter.
Gryzbowski said his company contacted the Illinois supplier of the lumber after the matter was discovered.
"They showed us a paper trail that's over a year long, that they've been working on certification, but the real fly in the ointment is that they didn't have this when they sold it," said Gryzbowski. "They didn't get their certification until July 12."
He said that was months after the material entered the project pipeline.
A statement from the city of Minneapolis said city inspectors had looked into the matter.
"The code-required labeling of lumber used on the project was suspect, so the City of Minneapolis along with the architect of record required the lumber to be tested. The test found the lumber did not meet minimum building code specifications for fire resistance," the statement said. "The contractor and design team will now need to come up with a way to meet those specifications before this project can proceed."
It isn't clear if the issue has cropped up on any other projects.
Gryzbowski said the buildings his company were constructing were safe, and that his company is developing plans to replace the 2-by-6 and 2-by-8 exterior structural lumber at issue. He said work is continuing on the projects where it can, with site, interior and mechanical work, like heating and air conditioning. He doesn't know how long the fix will take, but said his company is considering legal action against the lumber supplier.
But he also said the matter was part of an ongoing union labor dispute, stemming from his company's growing market share in the Twin Cities. He said Big-D is expected to manage nearly $200 million in projects in Minnesota this year.
"We're a big company. We're in 10 locations, we're a billion-plus a year in construction, and we moved here to this market three years ago, and they (unions) don't like that," Gryzbowski said. "There's a hard core campaign going on in the background, that says there's this big non-signatory firm that stormed in here from out of town and is doing things sub-par and cutting corners and undermining our Minnesota workforce, and that's just not the case."
Union officials denied the matter was a labor issue.
"If it's a union issue, we'd be over there with pickets, we'd be over there with banners, we'd be protesting. This is not about labor. This not about who pounded the nails into this lumber, this is about the fact that this lumber is sub-standard," said McConnell, with the Minneapolis building trades.
The Big-D projects include Hello Apartments at 9130-9220 Olson Hwy. in Golden Valley; Foundry Lake Street, 3118 W. Lake St., Minneapolis; and Residences at 1700, at 1730 Plymouth Ave. in Minnetonka.
Another company, Florida-based DLC Residential, is building the Central Park West project in St. Louis Park, at 1511 Utica Ave. S., where the same lumber issue has come up. That project used the same subcontractor, JW Schwieters. DLC Residential CEO Russ Krivor said his company is also non-signatory, and uses some non-union labor.