Compassion in Action: Wiring the Douglas County Justice Center

MIL 4438 Blog June 2560x1700

A three-year project saw its completion this spring. The Douglas County Justice Center at 17th and Harney streets in downtown Omaha opened to the public on June 1, 2023. From concept to completion, the journey toward reforming the county’s juvenile detention center was a collaborative one.

Miller Electric was privileged to work as a commercial electric contractor on the project with Peter Kiewit as the general contractor. Senior Project Manager Joel Beiting recalls that Kiewit’s work on the extensive project began during the summer of 2020, with Miller’s on-site work commencing in March 2021.

“From start to finish, the concept behind the work on the building has all been designed to further the county’s cause to rehabilitate troubled youth,” Beiting says. “It was a very collaborative project, with multiple complexities. It was great to work with Kiewit again because we know them so well, but perhaps the most rewarding aspect was coordinating with the many small emerging businesses, minority businesses, and other contractors and owners to keep the project on schedule.”

3 Buildings, Lots of Light

A WOWT report on the project quotes Martha Warthon with the Public Defender’s Office as saying that the project gives its clients “a lot more trust in us and the fact that they’re getting high-quality legal representation.”

Kid-friendly juvenile courtrooms are designed with youth in mind. They provide more light, are less intimidating and feature a judge’s bench that is at the same level, rather than set high above the courtroom.

The same story quotes George Achola, vice president and legal counsel with Burlington Capital, describing the importance of the project as “… making sure that the kids are treated as kids, even though some may have committed heinous crimes … at the end of the day we still have to remember they’re children and we’ve got to treat them accordingly.”

The Douglas County Justice Center project consisted of three buildings. One was an old MUD building that was remodeled and turned into professional offices for the Douglas County Juvenile Probation operations.

The other two buildings were a tower filled with courtrooms, offices and holding areas and the new Justice Center.

Miller Electric provided the electrical and low voltage work within the Tower and Youth Center, as well as the new skybridge connecting the Justice Center with the courtroom and judges’ quarters. Specs on the buildings include the following.

  • 3-year, $120+ million city-funded project
  • New 8-story, 147,000 sq. ft. Tower
  • New 4-story, 65,000 sq. ft. Youth Center with 64 beds
  • 5-story, 45,000 sq. ft. office building renovation
  • Skybridge connecting the Tower and Hall of Justice

Inside the Tower are brand new light, open and airy spaces for the Douglas County Juvenile Court, Juvenile Court Administrator, County Attorney, Public Defender and staff, and Juvenile Court Clerk’s office, as well as community spaces for young people.

Unique Challenges, Interesting Aspects to the Project

The project featured many aspects unique to its purpose. For instance, Beiting says that while it still feels like a detention facility, the block walls have been skim coated to provide a better feeling to the kids spending time in them.

“On the top floor, there’s a gym with a basketball court and a recreation yard. Outside of the sleep rooms, community spaces are designed to feel more homey and officers’ stations are light,” says Beiting. “There are doctors’ offices, classrooms, a library and open offices, all of which are designed to support the county’s goal to truly rehabilitate youth who spend time there so that they leave reformed and ready to be productive members of the community as adults.”

Additional complexities came with the security system, which was designed by an individual contractor specializing in security system installations for detention centers and prisons.

“We installed all the conduit and cable trays to accommodate the devices, programming and startup of the highly complicated security systems,” says Beiting. “Toward the end, we assisted with manpower to finish installation and trained building staff on how to use all of the panel boards, switch boards, lighting controls, lights, and fire alarm system. That work helped us all get to the finish line on time.”

BIM, Prefab Makes Quick Work of Otherwise Daunting Block Walls

One of the most challenging aspects of the project were the block walls, which required Miller Electric to coordinate with a mason subcontractor to get rough-ins for boxes and conduit for data outlets and receptacles in the walls at just the right time.

“Mark Whannell worked with our general foremen on the project, Keith Hanna and Nick Eakin, to develop BIM drawings and manage them so they were organized and so that everyone in the field and office had easy access to them. Mark’s prior experience as a general foreman was instrumental in our ability to lay out floors ahead of time. We were able to pull a lot of wire ahead of time and work more efficiently.”

Beiting recalls that Miller Electric spent about 5,000 hours on prefab support for the project.

“Mark and Keith would lay out a room and send it to prefab. They would compile material off the drawings and send kits to the field. Each room had a kit so the electrician assigned to it just had to take the material out of the crate, look at the print and install the rough-ins for that room. We did that room by room until the work was complete.”

Attention to Detail, Diligence Paved the Way for Project Success

While the project presented complexities and challenges around schedule, requirements and the number of parties involved, Miller Electric’s crew rose to those challenges and met them with clear communication, solid coordination, efficient work and appropriate manpower needed for the job.

“It was all in all a very positive experience and one I think all of us can look back on with pride,” says Beiting. “I’m very grateful to our partners at Kiewit as well as Mark, Keith, Nick and everyone in the field who worked so diligently and safely to finish the project on time.”


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