New Courthouse A Unique, Smooth And Safe Project
GRAND RAPIDS — The christening of the new county courthouse will happen Wednesday of next week at 10 a.m. But prior to that long-awaited event, the county will host what could very well be the largest hard-hat breakfast of all time, as up to 400 of those who worked on the project will break toast together two hours earlier on Calder Plaza.
Both events will symbolize the end of a construction period that began on April 12, 1999, when then-Kent County Chairman Patrick Malone tossed the first shovelful of dirt at the Ottawa and Lyon building site. And for two men who attended that sun-drenched, but chilly groundbreaking, the completion of the $60 million courthouse holds special meaning. Why? Because Thomas Healy and James Leach managed the construction.
“It’s a highly visible project. It’s a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity,” said Healy, president of Owen-Ames-Kimball Co., the project’s construction manager.
Healy placed the courthouse in a very select category of projects, grouping it only with two other premier ventures his company has directed — the Van Andel Public Museum Center and the Meijer Botanical Gardens.
“These are once-in-a-lifetime opportunity projects,” Healy repeated.
“Overall, I think it was a very smooth project,” added Leach, facilities manager for Kent County.
So what makes a building project run smoothly? Lots of things. The right subcontractors, suppliers, materials and attitude toward the job all played big roles in how easily the building went up and came in on budget.
But all of those things start from the top. And for this two-and-a-half year project, the management team, headed by Healy and Leach, was the steam that ironed out the wrinkles.
“Jim is a peach of a guy. Jim is very professional and has high expectations. But he is also a very reasonable man,” said Healy.
“Everybody talks about teamwork; teamwork is a good buzzword. I’ve worked with a couple of real true teams in my life, and one of those has been with O-A-K,” said Leach.
“I think from the perspective of a contract manager for a governmental building, they worked for the taxpayers, as well as the county,” he added. “They really did an excellent job as far as overseeing many of the contracts, advising us along the way, and certainly added value to this project that is not measurable.”
Like all construction projects, the courthouse had a few challenges that were unique to it. Probably the toughest, though, was the site. A tight footprint at a busy downtown intersection made logistics interesting, to say the least, especially when the building offers 325,000 square feet and rises more than 200 feet skyward.
“When we were doing the foundation work and the steel erection, we pretty well had to do all that from the west side, while we had our temporary hoist elevator over on the east side of the building. So there was a lot of logistics, site planning and coordination,” said Healy.
How tight was the footprint? Almost none are tighter. As Healy pointed out, the exterior walls almost touch the sidewalks. And if you take a gander at the building’s corners, you’ll notice a roundness that is absent from most modern structures.
“There virtually is not a square corner in that building. If you look at the perimeter of it, there are no 90-degree corners,” said Healy.
More than 70 subcontractors and suppliers were involved in building the courthouse. About 170 workers were still on the job just a week or so ago, tacking on the final touches. Over 900 work days of uncountable man-hours, and, remarkably, no injuries to report.
“We’ve had a very safe job. That’s a credit to the workmen and the safe-working practices over there,” said Healy.
Many of those workmen will meet again on Wednesday, Sept. 5, for a breakfast dedicated to them prior to the dedication of the building. From seats on Calder Plaza, they’ll be able to gaze down the street together for one last collective look at their triumph. Eggs, bacon, toast, coffee, maybe some Cheerios and, oh yeah, a new justice center will be on the menu.
“I’m not sure how many are coming. Some are on other jobs,” said Leach of the invitees. “We’ve invited about 400. I’m hoping at least 200 will show.”