About the old courthouse
About the new courthouse
Construction and traffic impacts
Project Schedule and Public Comment
The original central courthouse did not meet current seismic codes. Its unreinforced masonry walls mean the building has a safety ranking of “poor.” Limitations of space and century-old design also created regular security concerns for court personnel, crime victims, witnesses and the general public because criminal defendants could not always be kept separate in public pathways.
What were the major functional difficulties?
The original central courthouse lacked secured vehicle pick-up and drop-off areas for those in custody. The building did not meet other state and federal codes for modern courthouses. Courtrooms in the original courthouse were not adequately designed to meet current demands for efficiency and services. The required security screening equipment and inadequate lobby size created long lines that often delayed entry into the building. The building also did not comply with current Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) standards due to a lack of entry ramps and elevators.
Why build a new courthouse?
When the existing central courthouse was built in downtown Portland between 1909 and 1914, Multnomah County had one-third its current population. This was long before modern building code standards for earthquakes were in place. A century’s worth of public use combined with increased demands from today’s much larger population of more than 800,000 county residents created major functional difficulties and serious safety problems that had to be resolved.
The courthouse is an essential home for the community's daily judicial operations and must be functional even in the case of a major catastrophe like an earthquake. The courthouse is one of the few community spaces that the public is compelled to enter -- for activities ranging from jury duty to fulfilling legal obligations by paying a parking ticket or serving as a trial witness. In addition, the state of Oregon requires the county to provide facilities for the courts to operate.
Remodeling the old courthouse was considered in detail in 2011 and many challenges were identified. The physical size of the old courthouse would not meet future needs and the building's interior does not meet 21st century courthouse requirements. The courtrooms and waiting areas for witnesses, victims and families were inadequate. Renovating the existing structure would also take longer than building a new courthouse and the temporary relocation of courthouse operations would be too disruptive, expensive and logistically challenging.
In September 2018 Multnomah County sold the existing courthouse for $28 million to Portland-based NBP Capital, LLC. The new owner plans to upgrade the structure for commercial use. The purchase agreement includes a lease that allowed courthouse operations to remain in the building until the new courthouse opened in fall 2020.
The new Central Courthouse is open for business but visitors are not encouraged at this time due to the Covid-19 pandemic and social distance rules. As with the old courthouse, members of the public need to pass through the lobby security station upon entering the building. Masks are also required.
How much did the new courthouse cost? How was it funded?
On September 28, 2017, the Multnomah County Board of Commissioners approved a Guaranteed Maximum Price for construction of the new central courthouse. The total project budget -- including property acquisition, design engineering, permitting fees, insurance, bonds, contingency and construction -- is $324.5 million. The County and State are funding partners on this project. The State Legislature approved $92.6 million in matching capital construction funds during the 2017 session, completing the state's $125 million contribution.
What functions are housed in the new courthouse?
The new courthouse houses the essential functions of the old courthouse, and many of those functions have expanded in size and space. The new courthouse includes the Multnomah Circuit Court operations departments, judicial offices, and 44 courtrooms. The courthouse includes orientation and deliberation rooms for jurors and grand jurors; Multnomah County Probation Intake offices; Sheriff offices for courthouse security; facilities for the transport of in-custody defendants; and the Multnomah County District Attorney’s Office.
The new courthouse also houses Family Court Services which provides mediation, counseling, and educational classes; CourtCare, a free, drop-in child-care service, for low-income families who have business at the courthouse; and a coffee stand run by the Commission for the Blind. The building includes a Legal Resource Center open to the public, while the Multnomah Law Library has moved to a nearby building in downtown.
Construction began in October 2016 with the installation of construction fencing around the block. Heavy construction began in early 2017 and work was completed in late summer 2020. View the animated construction sequence video.
When will the new courthouse open?
The new courthouse opened on October 5, 2020.
How was the site, near the Hawthorne Bridgehead chosen?
The site for the new courthouse was selected in 2015 from a long list of alternatives. The courthouse project team performed extensive due diligence including an evaluation of environmental, geotechnical, seismic, traffic, transit and parking impacts, among other analyses. The team also considered stakeholder and public input collected from an online survey, two open houses, and interviews. The site near the Hawthorne Bridgehead was chosen for a multitude of reasons including its location on mostly county-owned land and proximity to the justice center.
Multnomah County hired the National Center for State Courts (NCSC) to determine current and future needs for the courthouse. The NCSC group used population, caseloads and other documentation to determine the space requirements for a 2050 courthouse. DAY CPM/HDR Inc, the Owner’s Representative, prepared blocking and stacking diagrams to determine how the required program would fit on the selected site. The team worked within these parameters to determine size and budget for a new central courthouse that would serve the County for years to come. A major factor in space planning is to create a sally port for inmate transportation and secure pathways for movement of the various courthouse users.
Portland’s 2035 Plan allows areas adjacent to bridgeheads to have higher height limits. Land near the Hawthorne Bridge was zoned for buildings up to 325’ tall. Prominent buildings are a guiding factor for the city planning guide. City Council adopted the West Quadrant Plan in 2015 and approved a request to design the new courthouse for the new height limit in early June 2016. The new courthouse is 324 feet tall.
How is the historic Jefferson Station building incorporated into the new courthouse?
The historic Jefferson Station building at the southwest corner of the courthouse block was incorporated into the new courthouse. It houses high volume courts for traffic violations, small claims and landlord/tenant cases. See this article for details.
Is there an underground tunnel connecting the Justice Center to the new courthouse?
No, a tunnel was not built. Only a small percentage of in-custody defendants are held in the Justice Center. More than 95 percent of defendants transported to the courthouse come from the county’s Inverness Jail. The project team studied a tunnel and recommended against it because costs and risks outweighed benefits. The Board of County Commissioners approved the recommendation in December 2015.
What kind of access is provided for people with disabilities?
The courthouse is fully accessible to people with disabilities and compliant with Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) standards. This includes the provision of a hearing assisted system in courtrooms, on ramps and in elevators. It also includes adequate floor and turning space for wheelchairs in courtrooms and other spaces. Adjustable height tables will be available in courtrooms.
What artwork will be featured in the new courthouse?
The County worked with the Regional Arts and Culture Council (RACC) on public art for the new courthouse, using 2 percent of funds from the project as required by county ordinance. The courthouse lobby features a large-scale glass art mural by artist Lynn Basa. Northwest artists Barbara Earl Thomas and Rob Lewis designed sheet metal murals at street level outside the building. RACC's website has more information on the public art at the Courthouse.
Local artists Rob Lewis, Amiri Rose and Jose Solis collaborated on temporary murals that were added to the window coverings on the historic Jefferson Station on the southwest corner of the courthouse block. The murals celebrate the Black Lives Matter movement and the fight for racial justice that has been a theme of 2020. The art project was overseen by the Regional Arts and Culture Council using the project's 2% percent for public art funding. The murals cover original historic windows to the building, which is on the National Register of Historic Places.
Where does the public enter the new courthouse?
The public entrance is at the corner of SW Madison St. and SW First Ave, 1200 SW First Avenue.
What are some of the main design features of the new courthouse?
17 stories (324 foot high building)
464,700 square feet (57% larger than the old courthouse)
Separate elevators and halls for the public, in-custody defendants and judicial staff
Secure sally port for in-custody defendant transfers at SW Naito Parkway/SW Jefferson St.
Exterior of stone panels and windows
Three-story lobby with 60-foot board-formed concrete columns
How did construction impact traffic and pedestrian access?
Traffic planners and the contractor established safe travel routes during and after construction. Covered walk and bicycle pathways were placed adjacent to the work zone, during the heavy construction phase. Construction sequencing was scheduled to help reduce traffic congestion. Roads remained open during construction, with periodic restrictions to traffic lanes and sidewalks. Occasional temporary street re-routes were required. The public had continuous access to the SmartPark entry on SW Jefferson St. as well as the Hawthorne Bridge.
Some night and weekend work was needed during construction of the new courthouse. We took a number of steps to be respectful of our neighbors:
Construction crews used noise mitigation techniques, air quality monitoring, truck wheel washes, and other strategies to minimize impacts.
Typical construction hours were 7 am to 6 pm Monday through Friday with occasional work activities starting at 5 am. Some night and weekend work was also needed.
All equipment complied with US Environmental Protection Agency noise standards.
The project worked to reduce truck movements at night.
Contractors used portable noise meters onsite to measure noise levels.
We maintained a 24-hour telephone response line (503-988-8888) for noise complaints.
We addressed complaints within 24 hours or before the next scheduled night work.
Yes, the project received a noise variance from the City of Portland to do work on some nights and weekends, to minimize traffic impacts on commuters.
A team led by SRG Partnership was selected for architecture and design engineering services, while Hoffman Construction was selected for the Construction Manager/General Contractor (CMGC) contract. DAY CPM was the owner’s representative. To see a list of firms that worked on the project, visit our project team page.
What kind of sustainable materials/features are included in the new courthouse?
Will the new courthouse be LEED certified?
The County is seeking LEED certification for the building. LEED stands for Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design. LEED-certified buildings are resource efficient. They use less water and energy and reduce greenhouse gas emissions. As an added bonus, they save money. The County is aspiring for LEED Gold certification.
Is the new courthouse in a floodplain and will it be able to withstand the impacts of a flood event?
As part of due diligence, the central courthouse team researched 100-year flood data and the impacts of the 1996 flood. The site elevation at 44 feet is above the Willamette River crest level (28.6 feet) and the groundwater level at (12.75 feet). The new central courthouse is not in a floodplain.
What is the project schedule?
The County broke ground at the new courthouse site in October 2016. The design phase concluded in early 2017, and contractors began laying the foundations for the courthouse in February 2017. The new courthouse opened on October 5, 2020.
July 2013: Legislature makes bipartisan commitment of $15 million in the 2013 - 2015 biennium to support the new central courthouse.
September 2013: County hires project manager
December 2013: DAY CPM selected as the County’s “owner’s representative” to oversee contracts on this high-priority project, and to add expertise to help plan the courthouse layout, footprint, size and functional configuration.
July 2014: National Center for State Courts publishes analysis identifying current functions that are essential for a new courthouse.
July 2014: County begins Courthouse site solicitation process.
November 2014: County completes reference design for the project, which is an architectural layout that studies what building functions should be next to each other for heightened security and the highest possible operational efficiency.
December 2014: The courthouse executive team recommends the Hawthorne Bridgehead south block as a preferred site and nearby block 128 (at the time a surface parking between the KOIN Tower and the Marriot Hotel) as an alternate site to be further studied.
December 2014: Multnomah County Board of Commissioners approves preliminary plans and site selection recommendations for the central courthouse project.
January - February 2015: Project team conducts due diligence on two sites and hosts two open houses to share information and solicit public input for the courthouse site selection.
February 2015: Multnomah County launches online public survey to solicit input for the courthouse site selection.
February 2015: Multnomah County Board of Commissioners selects Construction Manager/General Contractor project delivery method for construction of central courthouse.
April 2015: Multnomah County Board of Commissioners briefed on due diligence studies conducted on preferred and alternate site.
April 2015: Multnomah County Board of Commissioners unanimously vote to approve county-owned Hawthorne Bridgehead site as future site for central courthouse.
July 2015: State lawmakers allocate $17.4 million in funding for the new Multnomah County Central Courthouse.
July 2015: County selects contractor teams for downtown courthouse including SRG Partnership/ RicciGreene Associates for design and engineering services, and Hoffman Construction as Construction Manager/General Contractor.
August 2015: Central Courthouse Projects hosts first design open house with courthouse design team and interested Minority, Women and Emerging Small Business (MWESB) firms.
December 2015: Board approves the FAC-1 Project Plan that adds the District Attorney’s Office, and four high volume courts to the project.
September 2017: Multnomah County Board of Commissioners approves Guaranteed Maximum Price of $324.5 million for the project.
October 2016: County holds groundbreaking ceremony at courthouse site.
February 2017: Heavy construction begins.
October 2018: Topping out event, marking addition of last structural steel
July 2019: Construction crane removed
What opportunities exist for public input on the project?
County Commissioners want to make sure the public's views are considered so that this essential project reflects community needs and values. Public input informed decisions on siting of the courthouse and design features. Members of the public can always weigh in on decisions made about the courthouse during public comment periods at regularly scheduled Board of County Commissioners meetings. The public can email the courthouse team at firstname.lastname@example.org at any time.