ITHACA, N.Y. — A number of readers have emailed over the past few months asking about the Library Place project next to DeWitt Park. While most local projects restarted construction as soon as the governor’s COVID stoppage order was lifted, Library Place never resumed. The masonry elevator core and stairwell towers loom over the foundation like oversized tombstones, and some readers have wondered if that was some not-so-subtle symbolism for the project itself.

Well, let’s start with some good news. The project is still happening. The bad news is, it’ll be another three months before workers are back on site.

According to Library Place developer Frost Travis of Travis Hyde Properties, the issue has to do with the schedules of the subcontractors, the specialists hired by the general contractor to complete certain project tasks, such as foundation work, electrical wiring, and structural steel assembly. On larger projects, it’s common for the general contractor, in this case LeChase Construction, to put these tasks out for bid. The winner is selected based on cost and ability to get the job done, a contract is signed, and the subcontractor does their job on the site within a pre-determined period of time. When that’s done, they go on to the next project, wherever that is.

However, if the construction period is missed, and they have other jobs lined up, then it’s either try to find a new subcontractor (which can be difficult given the legal language within contracts) or wait until they can squeeze the project in at a future date. That’s what happened with Library Place.

“When we had the mandatory shutdown for non-essential construction, that really was a disruption for our project, so we lost our place in the queue with LeChase’s subcontractors. The masonry contractor was next in line to finish up, and the steel subcontractor was next, the steel’s already been purchased and is in their yard. It’s something that we’re waiting on to get started, and while we’re on pause, we just turned our focus elsewhere. LeChase will tell us when we can start again. It is difficult, but there’s not a lot we can do about it. We hope to get started before the year is out,” said Travis.

To turn to an analogy, say in a non-COVID world you were planning a grand wedding. You book the photographer, the caterer, the reception hall, the pastor to do the vows, and so on. But then an emergency arises, and you have to put the kibosh on those wedding plans. The emergency comes to pass, but it’s going to be a big effort to get all those vendors and service providers re-booked. After all, they have other weddings to tend to. This is the logistical mess that LeChase, the equivalent of the wedding planner here, found themselves in. December is the best they can do for getting every vendor back on tap to do their jobs.

Travis made clear that the project plans have not changed. Library Place will still consist of 66 senior apartment units with community and amenity space. The design remains the same as well. While unfortunate, Travis noted that the project was in a good position to weather out the construction delay, thanks to high demand.

“As tragic as it’s been, COVID is a temporary condition, and the demographics are on our side as far as the population bubble with the Baby Boomers. We’ve had literally hundreds of inquiries about the apartments, and we have a waiting list that is more than double the units (that will be) available, and we haven’t done any marketing. This product is really missing from our market. Understandably people are getting impatient, but there’s not a lot that can be done at the moment and we’re working on it. If we lose some people on the waiting list, I can’t blame them, but given the location and amenity package, we’re going to be able to fill up.”

Travis estimated the project would have an “80% chance” of resuming construction in December, and in those circumstances, the apartments would be ready for occupancy by the spring of 2022. The biggest downside for Travis with this delay isn’t an explicit financial penalty, but the “opportunity cost” of several months of lost time.

If there was one thing Travis sought to make clear during the interview, it’s that there is no reason for worry. He and his partners and the project team are committed to completing the project, if almost a year later than first expected. The day is coming when the looming stair towers will be encased in steel and hidden under bricks.

“We had a schedule delay that’s construction-driven, and we plan to be starting up against in the next three months. It’s going to be a special project, this is just a speed bump, we’re going to get over it and complete the project.”

Brian Crandall

Brian Crandall reports on housing and development for the Ithaca Voice. He can be reached at bcrandall@ithacavoice.com.