January 25, 2017

In their first board briefing before a new Multnomah County Board, members of the central courthouse project team updated board members on key milestones achieved and critical next steps for the $300 million project.

The regularly scheduled briefing comes after an historic groundbreaking in October and approval by the City of Portland’s Historic Landmarks Commission on the design of the 17-story structure on Southwest First Avenue between Jefferson and Madison Streets.  The new courthouse will preserve and incorporate the Jefferson Station building, next to the project site, into its design. Jefferson Station is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

“That is another big milestone. It really means that they’ve accepted what the design looks like and we’re now able to move forward and get all of our permits from the city,” said Project Manager JD Deschamps.  

Deschamps described upcoming construction work including: off-site utility relocation on Southwest Main, Madison and First Avenue beginning in February, then excavation and shoring work to follow.

“There will be a little bit of traffic impact but Hoffman and their subcontractors understand how to work within the city and how to keep traffic moving and how to make it safe for everyone.”

The project team highlighted a one-minute construction animation video, which includes a timeline of targeted dates leading up to the project’s completion in 2020.


“We have a one-story excavation that we do down in the ground with shoring around the perimeters so that’s what you’re seeing here,” said Gerry Hein of Hoffman Construction while referencing the first portion of the video. “Then we’ll start our deep foundation piers that are drilled into the ground and we build columns on top of that.”

The building will be constructed in a roughly 16-day cycle per floor according to Hein. By the 12th floor, the facade will be placed around the building.

“At the same time we’re doing all the rough end (rough installation) for the mechanical and electrical work inside the building.”  

The new courthouse will replace the structurally deficient and functionally obsolete courthouse on Southwest 4th Avenue and Main Street.  The century-old structure was constructed before modern building code standards for earthquakes were in place.

“It will not survive an earthquake,” said Deschamps. “And It doesn’t have a sallyport - an area where in-custody defendants can be brought into the building safely, so currently they are unloaded on 4th Avenue. They (defendants) are walked through the corridors with the public to go into courtrooms.”

Deschamps noted the new courthouse will include a secure sallyport and incorporate best standards, practices and technology to meet the needs of a growing population.

Among the building’s public features:

  • Expanded CourtCare, a free full-service childcare program for parents who have business in court  
  • A legal resource center with work stations and assistance on legal proceedings
  • And a docket display board in the lobby and on each courtroom

The courthouse project is on track to meet LEED Gold certification for sustainable design and the building’s design, with east facing windows, will help harness solar energy to heat the interior.

Energy generated by the courthouse would be shuffled to the county’s neighboring Hawthorne Bridgeand offset energy use from bridge lifts and lighting.

“If there’s excess energy, that power will feed into the power grid with PGE,” Day said.

The project team provided an overall budget picture for the $300 million project.

The county and the state of Oregon are funding partners. Currently, the county has dedicated $61.4 million to the project and the state has committed to $32.4 million through the past two biennia.

This legislative session county officials will ask the state for an additional $92.6 million to complete the courthouse which is slated to open in 2020.

“This current 2017-19 biennium is the largest request of the three (biennia) and we’re working very closely with the county’s Government Relations Director Claudia Black and the state legislature on that process,” said Day.

The county will issue bonds for the project this summer.

Hoffman Construction's Gerry Hein briefs board on courthouse features and animation video. Owner's Representative Mike Day and Project Manager JD Deschamps look on.

Hein outlined efforts underway to increase opportunities for minority, women-owned and emerging small businesses, or MWESB’s.  The project has already exceeded a 15 percent participation goal for MWESB’s on the architectural and engineering side.  

“On the construction side, we have a 20 percent goal and right now we have a number of trade partners on board and some of their lower tiers (subcontractors) identified and we feel we’ll easily hit the 20 percent goal and probably exceed that by a little bit,” said Hein.

The commissioners thanked the project team for its work: to ensure accessibility for the hearing impaired and disabled, work on sustainability, and expanded CourtCare.  

In April, the project team will return to the board with an additional update on the project’s guaranteed maximum price or ceiling price for completion of the work.

“I think we’re all excited to see this go up in front of us across the river and really appreciate all the work done, especially in the labor agreements,” said Commissioner Jessica Vega Pederson, who served as county chair in Chair Deborah Kafoury’s absence.  “I think this is an example where we can really do something that adds a lot of jobs to the community while making sure we’re lifting up all people..”

View the full board briefing.