Market & Johnson – County Courthouse

It is not uncommon in today’s economy for major projects to face significant delays. The most common reason cited for a slowdown or deferral is financial: a developer or client simply can’t get the funding from weary lenders.

For Eau Claire County, Wis., the three-year wait for construction to begin on its $59.1 million County Courthouse expansion didn’t hinge on a cash-strapped bank. Rather, the project faced another common – but no less formidable – challenge: politics.

After waiting out public debate over the redevelopment of former commercial and residential property in the city’s downtown to make way for the expansion and working out a number of compromises with city of Eau Claire officials and concerned residents, construction manager Market & Johnson Inc. last year began work in earnest on the project. Site development and foundation work began in August 2010, three years after the Eau Claire-based contractor signed the initial contract with the city to build a 186,000-square-foot expansion to the facility, which Market & Johnson built in 1975. 

The project already is more than 50 percent complete. The courthouse houses city and county courts and administrative functions, as well as a county jail facility. 

Public scrutiny over the project has given the company extra incentive to be sure public funds are spent wisely and residents are kept abreast of the work every step of the way, Vice President of Operations Jerry Shea says.

“Because of the attention on this project, we knew we had to stick to our budget or that would be a problem,” he adds. 

Market & Johnson is working closely to communicate with area businesses and residents about construction schedules,

road closings and other information. “When we say something is going to happen, it happens,” Shea says. “There are not a lot of surprises that have developed that we haven’t been able to communicate to the county or adjacent neighborhood.

“We’re really underneath the magnifying glass on this project and know we’re going to be held to a high standard, and as a team we’ve achieved that standard so far.”

Building Specifications

Market & Johnson and its construction team are currently working on building the three-story precast concrete and masonry courthouse addition. In addition to serving as construction manager, the company is also self-performing masonry, stud and drywall work acquired through a bidding process, Shea says.

The expansion is designed to consist of four pods to house maximum- and medium-security prisoners now housed on the third floor of the existing jail facility. Once the expansion is complete, that space will house administrative offices. In addition, 62,000 square feet in the adjacent courthouse will be renovated for use as a law enforcement center.

The county is not seeking LEED certification on the building, but will incorporate green-friendly and efficiency minded features. These include energy-efficient mechanical systems, a stormwater management program and the involvement of local contractors. About 60 percent of the subcontractors involved in the project are headquartered from within a 50-mile radius, Shea says.

“The idea of being an environmentally friendly construction partner is not a new concept to our firm,” the company adds. “Our experience allows our project team to balance the critical relationship between budget, function, and energy savings/payback.”

A Wisconsin Mainstay

Established in 1948, Market & Johnson Inc. is a mainstay in Eau Claire and the surrounding region, working within the institutional, commercial, education, religious, industrial and medical sectors. The company’s services include planning, design/build, project management and project close out.

“In this area, in order to survive, you have to do it all,” Shea says. “If it’s a brick-and-mortar project, we want to do it.”

The company has completed a number of projects on behalf of Eau Claire County during its history, but this is the first time it has served as a construction manager at-risk, he adds.

Market & Johnson brings  a proactive approach to safety to all of its projects.  “From our employees to subcontractor and from our client’s employees to the general public that may come in contact with your building project, Market & Johnson makes safety our number one priority,” the company says. 

A Hard-Working Team

Shea credits subcontractors and vendors for helping the project stay on track. “After this came in, we started working closely with subcontractors and suppliers to lock in prices,” Shea says. “We’ve been able to find very good contractors who are financially stable, and everyone on the project has a great attitude. We’ve had as many hurdles as any other project, but everyone is getting through it.”

Key subcontractors include MEP Associates, who provided commission services including verification and testing of mechanical, electrical and plumbing systems; and A-1 Redi-Mix Concrete Inc., who supplied concrete. Both companies are based in Eau Claire. 

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