Courthouse project on schedule and budget as construction enters growth spurt

February 8, 2018

Lobby columns take shape at left as new central courthouse rises by Hawthorne Bridge
Construction of Multnomah County’s central courthouse is on schedule and on budget as crews build the third story of the 17-floor building at the west end of the Hawthorne Bridge.  At a January 30, 2018 briefing for the Board of County Commissioners, project manager J.D. Deschamps said the project is entering a growth spurt that will see the structure quickly rise and the onsite workforce double and triple in the months ahead.

“In sixth months we will be jumping our construction crane 75 feet, to build the top stories,” he said.  As more floors are added, the available work space grows, allowing the workforce to grow. “Right now we have sixty to eighty people working onsite each day,” Deschamps said. “In a few months we will have more than 100 people working on different floors. Then we will peak out at about 300 people working onsite each day. We want everyone working and making a lot of progress.”

At the northwest corner of the building, the contractor has poured concrete for “some really tall columns in the lobby,” Deschamps reported. The columns stand 45-feet tall and will provide a dramatic first impression when people enter the building. Wet concrete was poured into wood forms to give a wood grain pattern to the concrete.  The columns will be covered during construction to prevent damage.

Two pumping stations were built near the center of the building, so that concrete from delivery trucks can be pumped where it needs to go as the building rises higher.  Deschamps explained that many of the pours happen early in the morning to avoid impacting traffic around the downtown site.

As the building rises along a major eastbound route across the Hawthorne Bridge, the contractor will install a pedestrian safety tunnel on the SE Madison Street side of the building this spring. Deschamps said the project has worked with the Regional Arts and Culture Council to have students at a local K-8 school (King School Museum of Contemporary Art in Northeast Portland) create a mural inside the pedestrian tunnel. Former County Presiding Judge Nan Waller met recently with the students, who will tour the current courthouse and the construction site this month as research for their mural. Commissioner Loretta Smith will meet with the student artists also.

Deschamps showed photos of post-tensioning cables installed in the concrete floors of the building, which allow the floors to be thinner.  Conduits for electrical systems are also installed in the concrete and documented with a scan, which “simplifies operations and maintenance for the longevity of the building,” explained Owners Representative Mike Day, of Day CPM.

Building systems for the courthouse are tested in mock-ups and retested as the building is constructed. Deschamps explained a test for leaks, for example. A mockup building section was built offsite where an aircraft engine subjected it to wind loads of 120 miles per hour and rain loads of 4 inches an hour.  Both loads are more than would ever be expected in Portland. The mock-up passed the test, along with an earthquake test. The wind and rain tests will continue on the actual building as the outside facade is constructed.

Subcontracting and workforce goals on target

An important goal of Multnomah County’s leaders is to ensure that a diverse workforce and group of firms participates in and benefits from the $324 million project. General contractor Hoffman Construction has a goal to award 20% of total construction dollars to certified firms owned by minorities, women, and disadvantaged small businesses.  Currently, 19.6% of construction dollars committed have gone to those MWSDVESB firms.  “Forty-nine sub-contracts have been issued to date to certified sub-contractors,” Day said.

On the workforce front, Day said the project is on target to meet its goals for involving a diverse workforce. “For apprentice hours, we are at 25% of total hours, above our 20% goal,” Day said.  “We want to improve our minority journey level work hours and our hours for women apprentices. We’ve set high targets and we are working with the unions, our trade partners and with Hoffman Construction to achieve those goals.”

Commissioners Lori Stegmann and Jessica Vega Pederson asked about relatively low participation levels so far for Asian-Pacific workers and Hispanic-owned firms. Day explained that the project is nearing the end of its first year of construction, with two more years to go.  “Some trades – like elevator installers – have not started on the project yet. We will see our numbers ramp up as additional trades come on.” 

On time and on budget

Day noted that the project is on schedule and on budget. “We recently pulled up our original 2014 project schedule and found we are basically meeting that schedule to the day, which is amazing if you think about all the hurdles we’ve overcome in the last three years, including getting funding.”

The state of Oregon is contributing $125 million toward the project. County Chair Deborah Kafoury said she thanked a delegation of Multnomah County legislators for their support at a breakfast event that morning.

Commissioner Sharon Meieran drives past the courthouse construction site on her way to work each day. “I want to add my appreciation to the project team for being on time and on budget.  To literally see the building going up before my eyes as I drive by each day is just a really exciting thing.”

Construction worker installs steel rebar on third floor of the new Central Courthouse