Whiting-Turner Contracting Co. – Durham County Judicial Building

DCJB Main Street looking at the south facadeWhiting-Turner Construction Co. oversees the conversion of Durham County’s old judicial building into modern administrative space.

By Tim O’Connor

For three decades the Durham County Judicial Building served a key function for the county’s residents. It was a place where marriages became official, civil disputes settled and criminal defendants sought a fair hearing. The building even contained a jail on its top floor. Thirty-nine years after it opened, the building is preparing for its second life as a space for the county’s administrative function.

Whiting-Turner Contracting Co. is the construction manager at-risk on the project to renovate the former courthouse into a proper administrative office building. The total budget for the rehabilitation is $47.2 million, of which $38 million is for construction.

The rehabilitation was precipitated by the construction of Durham County Courthouse in 2013 – another Whiting-Turner project. The 11-story building replaced the old courthouse. The courtrooms, offices and other courthouse functions moved into the new building four years ago, leaving the old courthouse vacant.

The county began exploring how to best utilize the empty building, eventually deciding it could be reconfigured into administrative offices. “An extensive space program analysis was developed to identify which county departments would benefit most from consolidating in this building from other county-owned and leased spaces around the city,” the county said.

Making Progress

Construction began in late 2016 and is on pace to be completed in May 2018. As of mid-May, Whiting –Turner had completed demolition and installed the curtain wall on the east and south faces of the building. Once the structure is dried-in, work will commence on hanging drywall then move on to the other finishes. Whiting Turner Durham County box

Although the building is approaching 40 years old, the structure remained sound. Instead, the rehabilitation work focused on the interior of the building. Whiting-Turner gutted the building and removed the skin but kept the slabs and structure in place. The primary exterior improvement was for the first two levels of the building, which were previously inset but have been extended to square them up with the entire structure.

The overhaul of the interior began with a reorganizing of the building’s elevator banks. Previously, the four elevators faced away from each other – two northward and two oriented to the south. To rearrange the elevators into a more usable configuration, Whiting-Turner removed the concrete wrapped steel, cut back the slab and added beams that span both sides of the elevator banks. The elevators themselves were reoriented so that both sides face each other, creating an elevator lobby that will make it easier for users to access their floors.

The building’s MEP systems are also getting a complete overhaul. A new fire protection system will be installed on every floor and air handler units will be included in the penthouse and lower level. New chillers, cooling towers, boilers, new electrical gear, and devices will be installed. The infrastructure and the plumbing systems will also be completely new. Whiting-Turner has already completed most of the wall framing for rough-in for the MEP systems in the building, according to the company.

The completed building will be mostly office space, but it will also contain community meeting spaces and a fitness center on the fourth floor for county employees. The first level will include two retail spaces totaling about 6,000 square feet.

Tight Workspace

Whiting-Turner has completed similar projects before, which is partially what made the company a good fit for the rehabilitation. However, the site does pose a few challenges. The former judicial building sits on an active downtown block, creating a tight site with limited space for subcontractors to work.

To mitigate those issues, most materials are kept off site and only delivered when that part of the project is ready to proceed. Managing the workflow on such a tight footprint can be difficult, so Whiting-Turner created a Google Docs planner that tracks the schedule of deliveries to the site and shared it with the 51 subcontractors involved in the project.

With so many subcontractors involved, it can be difficult to keep on top of performance and quality. Whiting-Turner holds weekly meetings with its subcontractors and twice a week holds huddles where issues can be worked out. Further, the company frequently conducts walkthroughs of the building with the architect, O’Brien Atkins Associates, and third-party consultants to identify issues that need rectifying.

The final building promises to be a fitting and modern space for government business. The exterior will be clad in glass, allowing for abundant natural light to seep into offices. Airfoils on the curtainwall and metal panels will give the structure a striking look without creating an impression of extravagance. Within the building, the offices and hallways will feature mostly paint with touches of stone, tiles and wood. Keeping with that modern design, the building is expected to achieve LEED Silver certification for energy efficiency.

The county’s end-goal is to create a hub of operations in downtown Durham. The former judicial building sits across the street from the main county offices and will act as a sort of connector with the Durham County Board of Elections. Its placement in the larger Durham County government campus will also result in a new name for the building: Administration Building II. 

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