The verdict is in on the new courthouse in Denver, and it’s getting a lifetime sentence of rave reviews.
The Ralph L. Carr Colorado Judicial Center opened at the end of 2012 and was dedicated on May 2, 2013, by U.S. Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor and Colorado Governor John Hickenlooper.
The 695,767-square-foot facility includes a 12-story office tower, two Court of Appeals courtrooms, a Colorado Supreme Court courtroom, space for a total of 29 courtrooms and six additional courtrooms to accommodate future growth. The building also provides space for judges’ chambers, district attorneys, city attorneys, clerks of the court, public defenders, probation officers and jury assembly.
The judicial center features a traditional judicial look and feel thanks to hundreds of African Mahogany panels supplied by Timber Products Company that were used for the judge’s chambers, entryways and courtrooms. The woodworking was done by New World Millworks.
“The Denver courthouse was the biggest project we had ever worked on,” said Augustine Rios, manager for New World Millworks, who oversaw the project. “The whole process took more than a year and required a tremendous amount of coordination with our suppliers and other contractors. It’s a great facility with a traditional courthouse atmosphere and a lot of high-end architectural millwork such as high bases in the moulding, radius paneling throughout the building, and many other architectural details.”
Winning the courthouse project had a big impact on the company. More resources were brought into the shop, and at times two different courtrooms were being built simultaneously. Once on-site, New World Millworks had three separate install teams, a total of 40 workers.
From the outset, Rios knew the courthouse project would be different. For starters, the use of three dimensional drawings would play a key role in the process.
“We worked very closely with the architect in the design process to take the concept drawings to functional production drawings,” he said. “This entire building was completely drawn in 3-D, so we had to contribute our designs in that format as well. Using this modeling, we could virtually walk through the entire building to see how it would flow.”
From there, New World Millworks participated in meetings with electrical and framing contractors to make sure everything was planned just right. Then, like a dress rehearsal for a play, the general contractor rented a warehouse so a mockup of the judges’ chambers could be built to see how all the woodworking elements would come together.
In fact, Mortenson Construction and Fentress Architects, both of Denver, were honored with a national technology design award from the American Institute of Architects for their process and approach to building the facility.
“Eighty percent of the walls in the judges’ chambers were wood paneling, so the designs had to be right,” said Rios. “Building a prototype with the other contractors gave us an opportunity to see how the parts would line up, and to figure out any hurdles that needed to be overcome. That process was definitely instrumental in the success of the project.”
Supply and partners
Because of the sheer size and scope of the Judicial Center project, New World Millworks relied heavily on its wood products distributor, National Wood Products, in Denver, and suppliers like Timber Products Company to get the materials necessary for the job.
“Obtaining the right amount of materials was a main challenge because we needed many thousand square feet of veneer, and it all had to be Mahogany, which is difficult to source,” said Rios. “National Wood Products did a great job getting us access to the materials we needed, because it had a clear understanding that this was going to be a different type of project with so much material. It was a beneficial job for all parties.”
The veneers were key to providing a consistent look to all of the finished goods, and each sheet went through an extensive approval process with New World Millworks. Dietrich Veneers in Portland, Ore., supplied the veneers, and owner Bud Dietrich personally selected the specific logs and flitches sorted for color and grain. He noted that the quartered Khaya with little to no striping was a difficult challenge to overcome for this project. Timber Products Company particleboard was used as the core for the Mahogany panels, which were manufactured at the company’s Grants Pass facility.
“At the beginning of the day, we always had our material,” said Rios. “National and Timber Products thought outside the box when materials proved difficult to source, and they were able to deliver large amounts when we needed it. Maintaining a stockpile of materials was vital because we were able to get material the next day every time. The two companies worked hand in hand to get that done.”
In addition to the hardwood plywood panels, the finish was a make-or-break component of the job. With so much material, Rios said that maintaining a consistent, quality finish throughout was important.
Like many government building projects, the facility required sustainable building materials. The courthouse’s design incorporated the use of Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) certified wood, low-volatile organic compounds-emitting materials, recycled materials, water-efficient landscaping, construction waste management and construction activity pollution prevention.
“Timber Products Company has years of experience working with government and public projects. Producing the Mahogany panels for the courthouse using No Added Urea Formaldehyde particleboard core to meet sustainable requirements was something we have done frequently,” said Vice President Roger Rutan. “As the economy picks back up, we are seeing more requests for these types of materials, so it helps that our certifications and manufacturing processes are designed to fulfill those needs.”
After more than a year of work, the judicial center opened last December and received tremendous feedback from the local community and the judges.
“I was able to speak with a few judges and they were really excited about the quality of work in their chambers and the detail we offered,” said Rios. “It is a big upgrade from what they had before.”
For New World Millworks, the courthouse also served as a training ground for learning how to work on large projects and be part of a coordinated, integrated team of suppliers like framers, plumbers and electricians.
“It was a learning experience to understand that the up-front process is crucial to the success of our jobs,” said Rios. It made us re think how we send work to our shop floor.
“It was a big sense of relief when the facility opened,” he continued. “The team really pulled together to get the job done. Seeing it all go together and how it worked was definitely breathtaking.”
*This article was originally published on Woodworking Network's "Panel Talk".