Tight spaces challenged construction of Justice Center

When Robert Foster drives by the Mills Lane Justice Center years from now, he'll remember the steel-delivery trucks in the street, the snowstorms that brought work to a halt and nightmarish 9 inches that kept him awake late at night.

Foster, Clark & Sullivan Constructors' superintendent on the justice center project in downtown Reno, next month will wrap up a pressure-filled 19-month stint overseeing the $36 million project.

Some of the most intense days on the building, Foster recalled a few days ago, came early.

The new Justice Center at the corner of Sierra and Court streets ties in with the neighboring Family Court Building. A tunnel for prisoner transport links the two buildings. So does an atrium that houses security systems.

But after construction began, while crews still were working on the 20-foot-deep basement of the new building, engineers determined that the neighboring building was slightly out of square in relationship to the new project.

The answer? The orientation of the eight-story, 160,000-square-foot Justice Center was rotated by 9 inches in the architectural and engineering drawings, but not before Foster had lost some sleep.

And then there was the matter of the January snowstorms in early 2005.

At first, Foster thought crews could shovel their way through the snow and keep working on the building's skeleton. B.J. Sullivan, the president of Clark & Sullivan, suggested crews could melt the snow out of the building, then pump the water out of the unfinished basement.

But a second heavy snowstorm brought the planning to a halt, and construction shut down for a full month.

Snowstorms and out-of-alignment neighbors are tough to predict. Tight working conditions aren't, and the logistics of the downtown project worried Clark & Sullivan's executives from the time they first considered bidding on the project.

The building fills every inch of its site. That didn't leave any room to store materials or get them ready for installation.

Clark & Sullivan managed to set up a small staging area on a vacant lot across Sierra Street southeast of the building site.

But for much of the major construction the installation of the steel structure of the building, for instance, or the large panels that create its exterior trucks pulled up alongside the project and their loads were installed directly.

That, Foster said, required delivery scheduling that specified a precise hour for a truck to arrive.

Downtown traffic posed another challenge, particularly because the city government asked that street closures be minimized.

"You can't have 20 trucks all hit on one day," said Sullivan.

And the tight quarters required careful thought about the way the building would come up. For example, a 15,000-gallon tank in the building's basement a tank that provides backup water in case of a fire was put in place early in the construction, and the rest of the building rose around it.

Another question with a downtown site: Parking for the 150 employees of Clark & Sullivan and its subcontractors who were on the site during peak times. Some parked at the nearby staging area. Others parked at the city's First Street garage and walked a couple of blocks to work.

Security also required close attention. The Family Court building is tightly controlled, but a couple of holes would be punched in its walls to tie its facilities to the Justice Center. The holes were tightly secured during construction.

As Foster walks through the building these days, he's proud of a mural depicting life in Reno on the floor of the lobby. He admires the artwork in the main stairway, stained glass created from the prize-winning drawings of fourth-grade students at area schools.

And he's already making plans for the days after Clark & Sullivan turns over the building to the county government in March plans that start with a good vacation.


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