By late summer, Montana Chief U.S. District Judge Richard Cebull should be gaveling a federal trial to order in a new $60 million federal courthouse in Billings.
The downtown building, paid for by taxpayers as part of the 2008 federal economic stimulus program, will house the most public of governmental functions: justice.
“To my knowledge, there hasn’t been a project of this magnitude or dollars in the history of downtown Billings,” said Billings broker Charlie Hamwey.
Minneapolis-based Mortenson Construction is building the five-story justice tower for the federal General Services Administration. On Wednesday, Mortenson provided a list of 40 Montana companies that have been hired on the project, including 32 from Billings. At least one of those companies is based in another state but has formed a Montana subsidiary.
Sally Mayberry, GSA’s regional spokeswoman in Denver, said that so far Mortenson has executed contracts totaling $45.7 million.
Companies incorporated in Montana have landed $33.8 million, or 74 percent, of the work, exceeding the required 60 percent minimum on federal contracts, she said.
The Montana companies that received the largest contracts are Allied Steel; Empire Lath & Plaster; Hill Masonry; FGH Construction; Martel Construction of Bozeman; TC Glass of Great Falls; and Metal Works of Montana based in Missoula.
Two years ago, Sletten Construction of Great Falls lost out to Mortenson to be the general contractor on the courthouse, even though Sletten officials said their bid was $8 million lower. But Sletten’s protest failed.
Small businesses have received $21.3 million, 10 percent more than the required 37 percent, she said.
Work peaked just before the holidays, Mayberry said, and there are 135 to 160 workers per day completing the building.
No accidents have occurred during the courthouse construction.
“The stats speak for themselves, but I think the project is providing some great support to the state and Billings,” Mayberry said.
In Billings, Star Service Inc. president and part-owner Ronald Carlson said the courthouse has been a major contract for his company.
“We haven’t doubled our workforce, but we’ve added about 50 percent to man-up this job at the pace they’re going,” Carlson said.
At the peak, Carlson employed 25 workers installing heating and cooling infrastructure. Now that work is winding down, Carlson said he’ll have to start laying off some people because there isn’t enough work on other construction projects.
Kurt Smith, project manager for NorPac Sheet Metal Inc., said the federal contract meant adding five workers to the normal 20-employee payroll. As many as 15 workers have been assigned to the courthouse.
The company, formed 30 years ago, has worked on $2 million to $3 million projects, Smith said, adding that the courthouse is not the largest NorPac has tackled.
Alan Anseth, vice president of Yellowstone Electric, which has been in business in Billings for 75 years, subcontracts to Alerton Temperature Controls. Alerton works for McKinstry out of Seattle, which has opened a Billings office and is doing other energy retrofitting projects around town.
Yellowstone Electric is working on the fourth and fifth floors and completing work on a first-floor boiler room and a portal where law officials drive in to load or unload federal prisoners.
“It’s nice, in-town work for us, and we’re working with good quality people: Star Service and NorPac,” Anseth said. “It’s not what you know. It’s who you work with that gives you a final product that’s great for the owner.”
The courthouse also means steady work for members of three unions.
About 10 workers from Laborers Local #1686 have gotten courthouse jobs, said business agent Beckey Reedle.
Jeff Neitzel, assistant business manager of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Local #532, said EC has hired about 40 of his 225 electricians.
About 25 plumbers have been hired through the UA Plumbers & Pipefitters Local #30, according to union business manager of Henry Cellmer.
These longer-term jobs allow the union to bring younger workers into the trade, he said.
“That’s how we get Montanans to work,” Cellmer said. “A career isn’t just a job that comes by until the next job comes by.”
Thermax Insulation of Billings is insulating pipes.
Tony Achten, one of the owners, said Thermax was formed in 2005 just in time to catch the tail end of the economic boom. Since then, times have been difficult, he said. The courthouse is a $250,000 to $500,000 contract employing three to five of his people, Achten said, but he wouldn’t reveal the exact bid for competitive reasons.
“For us, it’s probably the second-biggest project we’ve done,” he said.
TC Glass Inc., of Great Falls, is installing the windows.
“We had 12 (workers) and we’re down to eight now. We actually hired in Billings and brought some of our crew down,” said Ed Habel, president.
COP Construction LLC of Billings helped prepare the site after the Oct. 10, 2010 groundbreaking.
The work pace at the courthouse has been fast, said Carlson of Star Service.
Mortenson has done lots of large construction projects and is used to having more manpower available than many Montana companies have at times. That makes it difficult to meet some deadlines, he said.
“It’s been a challenge, but I guess we’re proud to work on the project, but I’m kind of glad it’s almost over,” Carlson said.