Courthouse briefing features seismic ‘shock absorbers,’ diversity goals and topping out ceremony

October 11, 2018

The Multnomah County Board of Commissioners was briefed on construction progress, diversity goals and costs-to-date for the 17-story Central Courthouse project at the west end of the Hawthorne Bridge. 

Aerial view of Multnomah County Central Courthouse Project.
Aerial view of Multnomah County Central Courthouse Project.

The $324.5 million project is expected to finish by spring of 2020. The new courthouse will replace the existing one, on SW 4th Avenue and SW Main Street, which is seismically and structurally obsolete.

So far, 17 floors of concrete have been poured for the new structure, at SW 1st Avenue and SW Madison Street. Only the roof remains to be poured.

“The building is quite tall, and we’re getting very close to topping out,” said the project owner’s representative Mike Day.

On Tuesday, Oct. 9, presenters walked commissioners through photos and important features of the building, from outside to inside, and from the base to the top. Viscous dampers or shock absorbers have been strategically placed on floors 8-17 to help dissipate energy from a seismic event.  

“[They’re] kind of like -- if you can imagine getting into your car and driving down a bumpy road -- to have a smooth ride, it really helps if you have good shock absorbers,” said Day.

Photo courtesy Day CPM shows viscous dampers or shock absorbers have been strategically placed on floors 8-17 to help dissipate energy from a seismic event.
Photo courtesy DAY CPM shows Viscous dampers or shock absorbers, seen here, have been strategically placed on floors 8-17 to help dissipate energy from a seismic event.

The dampers triangulate through the courthouse central core, beam structure and floor slab, Day explained, “which allows the whole structural system to have that movement and absorb the frequency of the movement of the building in the event that there is an earthquake.”

Photo courtesy Day CPM shows view of Multnomah County Central Courthouse Project structural support system or curtain wall.
Photo Courtesy Day CPM shows view of Multnomah County Central Courthouse Project structural support system a.k.a. curtain wall.
  Day shared construction photos of the main entry lobby, which includes concrete pillars with a wood-grain finish that tie into the wood ceiling. He also shared photos of mockups of a jury box and a holding cell.   

“This is about quality control and really driving quality and consistency through the building,” said Day.

Currently, a curtain wall, or structural support system for the building’s exterior, is being installed. The curtain wall system is composed of a support frame (mullions), waterproofing, an insulation system (kingspan) and stone.

After testing the windows and other features against elements like heavy rains and winds, crews will install the facade stone for the finished look.     

WORKFORCE DIVERSITY GOALS

The presentation included an update on the project’s diversity goals.

County project manager JD Deschamps shared three main diversity goals for the project: small business contracting goals, apprenticeship goals and overall workforce diversity goals that are tracked every month.

The goals include:

  • 20 percent of total contract dollars awarded to firms owned by minorities, women, veterans with disabling conditions, and emerging small businesses; and

  • 20 percent labor participation rate for apprentice workers.   

Currently, the project has exceeded its small business goal at 26.1 percent. That percentage includes 40 minority-owned firms with a total estimated contract value of $13.6 million.  

“This has been good for the large firms to build relationships with women and minority-owned firms, and for women and minority-owned firms to work on a big project and drive that,” Deschamps said.  

But it’s just as important to attract people in an extremely competitive market, Deschamps said.  

Photo courtesy Day CPM shows construction photo of Multnomah County Central Courthouse Project.
Photo courtesy DAY CPM shows construction photo of Multnomah County Central Courthouse Project.

On the apprenticeship side, the project has also exceeded it’s 20 percent apprenticeship participation goals. However, it has yet to meet subsets within that goal for women and minority apprenticeships. “We are very close to meeting both the women and minority goals for the apprenticeship and for journey level,” said Deschamps. “It’s still early.”  

The overall workforce diversity goals have also been a challenge. “We still have not gotten enough diversity on the women’s side of the total workforce,” said Deschamps.

Commissioners expressed concern and optimism.

“I’m concerned about all the cranes that are up and that we may not be able to meet our [small business] targeted goals,” said Commissioner Loretta Smith.

“The harder part is for the individual firms to be able to have the people for them to be able to deliver,” said Deschamps. “It’s going to be a challenge.”

But Deschamp noted that apprenticeship numbers are tracked by trade and by group.

“Just the sheer fact that we’re being so intentional will hopefully drive the industry to step up,” said Commissioner Lori Stegmann. “A lot of these things are not under our control, but we’ve certainly set a high standard for what we expect.”

COSTS-TO-DATE

The $324.5 million project is funded by the County and the State of Oregon. Last fall, the board approved a Guaranteed Maximum Price  for construction at $246.4 million.  

The total project budget — including property acquisition, design, engineering, permitting fees, construction, insurance, bonds and a contingency of $13.5 million — is $324.5 million.

“We are a little more than a third of the way spent,” said Deschamps. “And we are tracking well with our contingency. Of the $13.5 million in contingency, $3.5 million has been allocated.

“With where we are now, we’re feeling good. I won’t use the word comfortable or complacent, but we’re feeling that we’re tracking everything well.”

Commissioner Smith asked for clarity on a $5 parking and traffic violation surcharge, approved by the state courts in 2016. The fees are being used to pay down debt service on the courthouse bond.

Photo courtesy Day CPM shows view from Multnomah County Central Courthouse Construction Project on Southwest 1st and Madison.
Photo courtesy Day CPM shows view from Multnomah County Central Courthouse Construction Project on Southwest 1st and Madison.

“It’s a huge piece to say that we’re not paying for the courthouse out of these monies alone,” said Smith. “But that there’s another pot of money that is being used to pay down the debt.”

Structurally, the courthouse is designed to exceed standards in fire and life safety code, to withstand a major Cascadia earthquake event. A third-party peer review, with nationwide experts, evaluated the building’s foundation and structure for its seismic capabilities.

“There is a minimum code, which is fire life safety code,” said Deschamps. “That means you get out of the building in an earthquake. We’re designing above that, so from the analysis that I’ve heard from the architects, in the Cascadia event, the building will survive.”

In November, a final beam will be hoisted to the top of the building in a  “Topping-Out” ceremony.

The construction ceremony highlights the completion of major structural components of the building.

“It’s really exciting physics to see it in action,” said Commissioner Sharon Meieran. “This is so great, things look good.”

Watch full board briefing.