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Last beam signed, flown into place in Old Town Chinatown by JE Dunn Construction

This story has been updated from its original version.

The final piece of structural steel was installed last week at the new health headquarters downtown. After everyone signed the steel beam, the boom crane flew it to the top of the new building strung with flags and an evergreen tree — an old Scandinavian tradition.

Since 2010 Multnomah County has been working toward replacing its 1923 McCoy Building, 426 S.W. Stark St., downtown.The county is building a modern and efficient nine-story building in Old Town Chinatown.

Its purpose is to consolidate the currently scattered Health Department programs and staff.PAMPLIN MEDIA GROUP: JON HOUSE - A construction worker grabs the last beam during a topoff ceremony for the new Multnomah County Health Department Headquarters.

At the event

"It's exciting to be here to place the last steel beam," said Multnomah County Chair Deborah Kafoury. "500 (health department) employees will provide new vitality to the neighborhood as they eat, shop and work here. I'm so proud of the women and men in the trades who've been out here in rain, snow and ice."

Prosper Portland funded $36.4 million of the project. Because of the location, the county also used $27 million allocated for county facilities within the River District Urban Renewal Area.

The county formally acquired the building site from the Portland Housing Bureau on Jan. 26, 2017 and on Feb. 17, 2017 construction began.PAMPLIN MEDIA GROUP: JON HOUSE - VIPs pose for a picture during the topoff ceremony for the new Multnomah County Health Department Headquarters.

The building was allowed by the Portland City Council to be nine stories instead of being capped at six when they unanimously voted June 24, 2016 to amend the zoning to increase the height on this block to 105 feet, with eligibility for height bonuses.

Once completed, the building will have space for 350 health professionals including the Tri-County Health officer, public health nurses, epidemiologists, administrators, the Health Department Director, emergency preparedness, public health emergencies, the communicable disease program, a small specialty clinic and pharmacy, the director of integrated clinical services and the director of nursing.

The building was only approved after vigorous community discussions with the Old Town Chinatown neighborhood association and other stakeholders.

"This brings out a lot of hope to people out here, especially those you see homeless," said Wendy Shumway, an advocate and board member at Multnomah County, and a client of the health department. "It surprises me how much people want to get involved in this. It's the only way we're going to get anything done."

Established in 1854, the Multnomah County Health Department is the largest safety net medical provider in Oregon for primary and dental care, operating 33 health clinics. When colonial pioneers settled in the Pacific Northwest, the indigenous Native Americans were made susceptible to contagious diseases including smallpox,

cholera, typhus and measles, and the European immigrants' medicines ranged from cobwebs to spirit-soaked sunflower seeds to whiskey (read more about the colorful history of Multnomah County Health on the website in the sidebar).

More than 160 years later, the county provides comprehensive health services for tens of thousands of residents.

The county estimates this headquarters

created 600 jobs. Many are directly JE Dunn Construction. PAMPLIN MEDIA GROUP: JON HOUSE - Multnomah County Health Department client Wendy Shumway signs the last beam before the start of a topoff ceremony for the new headquarters.

"It varies, we have 30 workers on site a day and had as many as 100. As we move into the exterior, with the facade going up soon, the peak will be 250 a day," Brett Taute, project manager, told the Business Tribune. "There's just so much activity: the steel frame inside, electricians, mechanical being installed in the walls, and the facade — soon you'll see bricks going up."

On site

JE Dunn Construction Vice President Tom Heger spoke exclusively with the Business Tribune.

"It's a very tight site. We literally go from sidewalk to sidewalk to sidewalk along three sides — the fourth side is Bud Clark Commons," Heger said. "We're 12 inches from the side of their building, we have no laydown space — thank goodness we have the block just south of the site."

Bud Clark Commons takes up the other half of this site's block, and was designed by Holst Architecture. The tight squeeze was challenging for the JE Dunn team.

"There's no equipment we can maneuver around the building, everything is from the tower crane picking from this (southern block) site, or off scaffolds, so we can't set a lift and go to work on this side of the building — that's definitely been a challenge," Heger said.PAMPLIN MEDIA GROUP: JON HOUSE - JE Dunn vice president Tom Heger gives a talk during the topoff ceremony for the new Multnomah County Health Department Headquarters.

Another difficulty is a familiar one around here: finding qualified skilled labor in a busy market.

"When we went to bid the work, we knew it would be a challenge to get bidders interested," Heger said. "We ended up coming up with a subcontractor plan broken down into smaller pieces so we could empower small businesses, particularly targeting (DMWESBS): we specifically made packages more attractive to give them the ability to be successful."

The minority DMWESB (disadvantaged, minority- or women-owned and emerging small businesses) subcontractor target for the project is 20 percent; currently, it's at 22 percent and has room to increase further — there are still a couple of bid packages out for signage, the final clean and exterior site work.

Although the busy market proffers challenges, JE Dunn collaborated with unions, trade partners, apprenticeship programs and had county support.

"Those (apprenticeship) programs are intended to get younger people, or anyone, interested in the trades who might not be exactly ready to be apprentices," Heger said.

The project also has goals of hiring state-approved apprentices to be 20 percent of the workforce, with at least 20 percent of those apprentices being minorities and 25 percent being women. JE Dunn worked toward that by having the program graduates at a big open house with their trade partners, hoping to help people find some qualified hires.PAMPLIN MEDIA GROUP: JON HOUSE - Construction workers record the raising of the last beam during the topoff ceremony for the new Multnomah County Health Department Headquarters.

"We understand we're not successful alone, we have to have trade partners, a design team, an owner, we all need to be worked together. Our philosophy is we're going to put everyone in a position to be successful on the project," Heger said.

But since breaking ground exactly one year ago right as the snowstorm began, the project has seen successes.

"With a very cold, wet winter, we were able to get out of the ground, get piles, drive foundations, we got that done with no major unforeseen conditions and that was a success," Heger said. "Right now, we are right on schedule and within the County's budget — those are two very big successes right now — that and meeting our minority goals."

The project is on schedule for completion in early 2019.

"We're very excited to be a part of this project. It's going to be a great facility for the health department, it's going to vastly improve their working conditions not only for the health department workers but for all clients and people of the community who come to the center," Heger said. "It's going to be a great place, and it's also going to be a great new building for this neighborhood. This is a new building that's going to serve the community well and the County has done a great job leading the effort."

By Jules Rogers
Reporter, The Business Tribune
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CORRECTION: Bud Clark Commons was designed by Holst Architecture.


Multnomah County Gladys McCoy Health Headquarters

653 N.W. Glisan

District: Old Town Chinatown

Total budget: $94.1 million

Partner: Prosper Portland

Owner's Representative: Shiels Obletz Johnsen

Designer: ZGF Architects

Contractor: JE Dunn Construction


Steel: R.F. Stearns

Mechanical: Charter Mechanical Contractors, Inc.

Electric: On Electric Group

Fire: Western States Fire Protection

Fabrication: General Sheet Metal

Glass: Culver Glass

Drywall: Western Partitions Inc.


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