New Health Department Headquarters honors dignity of clients, spirit of staff

March 20, 2019

Chair Deborah Kafoury celebrates the completion of the Health Department Headquarters.

Multnomah County on Wednesday celebrated the completion of its new Gladys McCoy Health Department Headquarters on an iconic corner in Portland at the west end of the Broadway Bridge.

In addition to dazzling views of Union Station, and the Fremont and Broadway Bridges, the $94.1 million project at 619 NW 6th Ave. includes a central laboratory, pharmacy, administrative offices, communicable disease services, clinic space and an emergency health response command post. Its wide lobby is tiled in glass murals by New York-based artist Francesco Simeti.

“I cannot tell you how excited Multnomah County is to be opening this building on time and on budget,” said Chair Deborah Kafoury. “We wouldn’t be here today without the contributions of many.”

Among those present were former and current commissioners, as well as representatives from the City of Portland, which donated the land for the building, and Prosper Portland, the city’s economic development agency, which provided $36.4 million in tax funding generated by nearby redevelopment projects. Other financing included $13.4 million from the County’s general fund and $44.3 million in bond proceeds.

The family of Gladys McCoy came out join community in an honor to her legacy

Kafoury also thanked the 500 Health Department employees who will begin moving into the nine-story building next month.

“You will finally get to be in a building that was designed, built and furnished to support the great work you do every day to support the well-being of the people of Multnomah County,” she said.

Bringing people together

The building replaces the former Health Department Headquarters, an unreinforced masonry building constructed in 1923 at 426 SW Harvey Milk St. It was intended to display fresh clothing styles, not to serve a team of 500 health professionals. The new building retains Gladys McCoy’s name in honor of the first African American elected to public office in Oregon and former Multnomah County County Chair.

On Wednesday, as community leaders, elected officials and clients gathered for the unveiling, Byrdie McCoy watched her father shoulder up to four of his siblings in the sweeping hall of the newest building to bear his mother’s name. It was the first time in many years she had seen so many of her aunts and uncles together.

When her grandmother Gladys McMoy was alive, the family met weekly for Sunday brunch, she said. “She was always bringing the family together,” Byrdie said over the voices of people who filled the lobby. “She brought so much love.”

Gladys McCoy died 26 years ago, when Byrdie was a child, but people still remember her name. Strangers sometimes exclaim, “Oh my gosh, I knew your grandmother!” But Byrdie worries that could change.

“Especially now, Portland is growing so much, I fear that her work would be forgotten,” Byride said. “It’s nice to have her honored so it will be harder for people to forget.”

As the County celebrates the new building, it’s also welcoming new leadership at the Health Department.

Patricia Charles-Heathers, Ph.D. assumed the role of director last week.

“I am thrilled to be with you today to celebrate the fruition of a project eight years in the making,” Charles-Heathers said Wednesday. “Our new building exemplifies the community-driven spirit and provides a dignified and welcoming space for our clients and staff to come every day. I’m honored to be part of this new chapter.”

On time. On budget. On point.

Working with its designated project manager, Shiels Obletz Johnsen, the County opens the building on time and under budget. The grand opening comes two years after general construction contractor JE Dunn Construction broke ground and eight years after the County launched the project.

Clinic director Vanetta Abdellatif visits the Health Department roof deck with clinic advisory board member Harold Odhiambo

“The team employed almost 1,000 people,’’ said Tom Heger, vice president and project director for JE Dunn Construction. “With a tight footprint and a large workforce, it’s incredible what we were able to do together with collaboration and innovation at the heart of the project.”

The project was built on half a city block, constrained to the east by the light rail on NW 6th Avenue, which prevented any road closures, and to the west, by the courtyard wall of Bud Clark Commons —  a mere 11 inches away. The JE Dunn team worked closely with neighbors to manage the site, especially Bud Clark Commons, where JE Dunn staff also volunteered with homeless services.

The Gladys McCoy Building will receive a LEED Gold certification, providing energy and water efficiency along with natural light for employees’ well-being. Much of the roof area is covered by an eco-roof, helping to manage stormwater runoff with native plants.

The building also features gender-neutral bathrooms, a wellness center and open office space.

“We are fortunate to be able to support the Health Department’s mission to provide accessible, equitable and high-quality healthcare and health education for the Portland community,” says Gene Sandoval, design partner at ZGF Architects. “As a resilient 80-year building, the new headquarters enables the Health Department to serve Portland’s most vulnerable populations now and in the future.”

“This modern facility will continue to serve generations of residents in Multnomah County as flexibility and durability were key elements in both the design and construction,’’ said Brett Taute, who managed the headquarters project for the County.

A special thanks from Chair Kafoury: We wouldn't be here today without the contributions of many. We would like to recognize all of those who played a role in helping us reach our goal. Many thanks to the following individuals and organizations: 

  • Multnomah, Kathlamet, Clackamas, Cowlitz bands of Chinook, Tualatin Kalapuya, Molalla and other Tribes whose traditional lands are along the Willamette and Columbia Rivers,
  • Former Commissioner Gladys McCoy, a civil rights leader, the first African American to sit on the Multnomah County Commission, and the building's namesake,
  • The Health Department staff and Vanetta Abdellatif, Wendy Lear and Joanne Fuller,
  • The County project team: Brett Taute, Sherry Swackhamer, Bob Leek, Naomi Butler, Scott Churchill, Stephanie Woodard, Maria Lisa Johnson, Greg Hockert, Mark Campbell, Ken Elliott and my staff Liz Smith Currie and Julie Sullivan Springhetti,
  • Former Commissioners Loretta Smith, Diane McKeel and Judy Shiprack,
  • Former Chair Marissa Madrigal and her chief of staff, Emerald Walker,
  • Commissioners Susheela Jayapal, Sharon Meieran, Jessica Vega Pederson, and Lori Stegmann,
  • The Portland Housing Bureau,
  • The City of Portland and Portland City Council,
  • Prosper Portland,
  • Home Forward, 
  • Bud Clark Commons and Transition Projects,
  • Old Town and Pearl District Neighborhoods,
  • ZGF Architects including Gene Sandoval, Karl Sonnenberg and Nat Slayton,
  • JE Dunn, including Tom Heger, Darin Stegemoller and every apprentice, journeyperson, supervisor and subcontractor involved in the project,
  • Steve Cruzen, Carter McNichol and Doug Obletz from Shiels, Obletz, Johnsen,
  • Regional Arts and Culture Council and Francesco Simeti, whose art will enrich our public spaces,