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CONSTRUCTION : Temblor Turning the Tide for Builders : Rebuild: Despite tight repair budgets, engineering and construction firms anticipate an upswing in contracts to fix quake damage.

January 27, 1994|ANDREW LePAGE | TIMES STAFF WRITER

After enduring three grim years in the construction industry, scores of San Gabriel Valley building contractors, engineers and others see a silver lining of rebuilding money in the aftermath of last week's devastating earthquake.

"Down the road I think this might generate a lot of work for (construction) people in the San Gabriel Valley," said Linda Zirbes, who with her husband, a plumber, runs D'Z Plumbing in Covina. Last week the company responded to a call for emergency help in Chatsworth to restore water service at a mobile home park.

Engineers from ASL Consulting Engineers in Arcadia have been inspecting buildings in areas heavily shaken by the quake to determine whether they are structurally sound.

Officials at the firm, which specializes in civil engineering and water systems, hope to play a role in new construction or repairs once contracts start flowing.

In addition to killing at least 57 people, the quake rendered thousands of buildings uninhabitable and caused more than $30 billion in damage.

Construction industry officials said renewed employment in their field is a positive glimmer amid an otherwise grim loss of life and property in the San Fernando, Santa Clarita and Antelope valleys, as well as the Westside and other areas.

"There is some good coming out of all of this disaster," said Tom Davis, senior project manager for quarry operator CalMat, which operates sand, gravel and asphalt operations in Irwindale. "Our business will have to increase to some extent. Our stock is going crazy."

CalMat's stock shot up wildly the day after the earthquake, reaching a 52-week high of $25.63 a share during trading that day. By close Tuesday, it had dropped to $23.50 a share, still higher than its pre-quake high of the past year.

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The upswing may be due to investors who anticipate increased demand for raw materials CalMat may supply to contractors to repair roads and buildings.

At the Pasadena-based engineering and construction management firm the Parsons Corp., officials were hoping to land major contracts for new construction or seismic retrofit work on highways and railroads. Parsons helped with redesign work on two major freeways in the San Francisco Bay Area damaged in the 1989 Loma Prieta quake.

"It's hard to know what the impact on our workload will be," said Michael Ellegood, manager of De Leuw, Cather & Co., which is Parson's construction group for freeways, bridges and rail systems. "A lot of it depends on how Caltrans chooses to do the work."

Though untold numbers of workers have lost their jobs--temporarily, at least--while San Fernando employers rebuild or consider rebuilding, there will be at least a short-term rise in construction employment in the Los Angeles area, industry officials said.

"It's going to be a bonanza for the construction industry," says Jack Kyser, chief economist for the Economic Development Corp. of Los Angeles County. "(The earthquake) may put the tourism industry on hold but the impact on construction is significant. Many construction-related stocks have shot up. Firms will have to get out and be aggressive."

He said government programs to speed funding for water and sewer system replacement, as well as low-interest financing for replacement of damaged homes, will help spur immediate work. Also, he expects the oversupply of office space in the Los Angeles basin to be partially absorbed by San Fernando Valley firms looking to relocate because of quake damage.

Pasadena stands to pick up a substantial number of new office and industrial tenants, said Darla Longo, senior vice president of CB Commercial Real Estate in the San Gabriel Valley. She has received numerous inquiries from firms whose buildings were damaged in the quake.

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Contractors are waiting to see what the quake might bring in the way of business. Despite the extensive damage to public and private property, many companies and government agencies may take years to rebuild because of budget constraints.

The Los Angeles Unified School District, for instance, faces enormous repairs that may cost up to $700 million--cash the district does not have.

"We're just waiting to hear from them," said Fred Hodges, project manager at the Alhambra-based Steed Brothers Construction Co., a general contractor that has built schools for the district.

A contract for major construction work at schools would be a major boon to the 74-year-old company, he said, because business has dwindled during the recession.

"This business has been really slow for three years--almost dead," he said.

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