March 3, 2020

With the grand opening of Multnomah County’s new Central Courthouse planned this summer, project leaders updated County Commissioners on construction progress at a briefing on March 3.

“As the scaffolding that was used to install the exterior stone panels begins to come down, it is starting to look like a completed building on the outside,” said Project Manager Greg Hockert.

With the building expected to open in the second half of July 2020, Hockert reported that “major building systems like electrical are up and operational. Elevator work is wrapping up. Sheet rock is being installed on the final floor.”

Building frontage improvements for Central Courthouse on SW Naito Parkway.
Building frontage improvements for Central Courthouse on SW Naito Parkway.

As exterior scaffolding is removed, contractor Hoffman Construction can begin work on ground level frontage improvements on four sides of the building such as new sidewalks.  This work has required night time lane closures on SW Naito Parkway. Starting March 9 the contractor will close a traffic lane at night on SW Madison Street eastbound between SW First Ave. and SW Naito Parkway as work begins on the north frontage.

Inside the building, wood paneling is being installed in 44 new court rooms and furniture is being installed on lower floors.  “The furniture going in feels like when you lay down the lawn for a new house,” Hockert said. “It is one of the last tasks before we open.”

Another major milestone recently completed was pouring concrete for the lobby floor.  The cathedral-like lobby has an intricate radiant heating and cooling system built into the floor.  Now that heavy construction is wrapping up, the contractor was able to pour the concrete floor. This spring, the Regional Arts and Culture Council will install a finishing touch in the lobby, a huge colored glass mosaic mural by artist Lynn Basa that will be mounted on the south wall.

The integration of the historic Jefferson Station building into the new courthouse is also taking shape, Hockert explained.  The three-story structure on the southwest corner of the block was once a power station that provided electricity for Portland's first streetcars.  The structure will house high-volume courtrooms that handle small claims, traffic and landlord/tenant cases.

Pouring concrete for lobby floor over radiant heating system in Central Courthouse.

Some of the building’s original history will remain on display. “We moved and repainted a 20-ton crane that will remain hanging above the waiting area in the Crane Room,” Hockert explained.  

Project Manager J.D. Deschamps shared the project’s progress toward workforce and contracting goals.  He noted that general contractor Hoffman Construction set a goal that at least 20% of subcontracts would be awarded to disadvantaged businesses, including those owned by minorities, women and veterans. “We are currently at 32.7%, so we’re doing well,” Deschamps said.  “Hoffman takes this goal very seriously. Last month the Portland Tribune newspaper ran an article about a workplace anti-harassment program called Green Dot that Hoffman has introduced successfully on this project.”

Deschamps reported that the project has been effective at employing a diverse workforce and helping minorities and women gain experience that can lead to well-paying careers in the building trades.  “We had an overall goal that 20% of the work would be done by apprentices and we are at 30% overall,” Deschamps said. Apprenticeship hours by minority males have exceeded the 20% project goal by 8.7%, while hours for women apprentices is below the 25% goal, at 20.8% of total apprentice hours.”

While the project has struggled to achieve its ambitious goal for women apprentices, Deschamps noted that overall many apprentices who started on the project have advanced to achieve higher wage positions as journey level workers.  With the project 95% complete, the project’s labor force has worked more than 1.4 million hours to construct the 17-story building.

Noting that the project is rounding the home stretch before completion, Deschamps said he had started on the project more than six years ago, during the planning phase.  He showed the board photos of the many children who have been born to project team members since the project began. One team member has had three children born during the project, a sign that building a modern courthouse is not a quick exercise.

County Commissioners were impressed by the project’s progress. “The photos of the lobby show what an inspiring building this will be,” said Commissioner Jessica Vega Pederson.   “I’m also interested to see how we can help the women who started as apprentices on this project become journeypersons in our region. There is a lot of construction coming in the years ahead.”

“The project is absolutely gorgeous,” echoed Commissioner Susheela Jayapal. “There is something about the space that adds to people’s sense of safety, trust, and belonging.” 

To learn more about the new Central Courthouse, visit the project web page.

Wood paneling has been installed in a court room at new Central Courthouse.