2021 NWCCC Distinguished Project Award

NWCCC Northwest Construction Consumer Council logoWe are pleased to announce that JH Kelly has been presented with a 2021 NWCCC Distinguished Project Award, recognizing excellence in engineering, design, and construction, for the Oregon Zoo Polar Passage, Primate Forest and Rhino Project. This was a high profile technically challenging project that JH Kelly, acting as a subcontractor to Lease Crutcher Lewis (Construction Manager / General Contractor), completed the mechanical, plumbing, and life support system scopes of work for.

The total value of JH Kelly’s contract was $5.8 million, the overall construction cost of the project was $36 million, and the total cost of the project was $47 million.

The project was the final phase of a variety of improvements to the Oregon Zoo made possible by a $125 million bond package passed by Portland voters in 2008. It completely revamped the polar bear, primate, and rhino habitats to provide more humane care and environments for the animals, better protect animal health and safety, improve access to conservation education, increase water conservation and reuse, and improve water quality. Prior to this phase, multiple other bond-financed projects had taken place at the zoo, some of which JH Kelly also completed scope for. This final slate of projects was meant to conclude the bond work and cement the Oregon Zoo as one of the preeminent zoos in the western United States.

As a part of this larger project, JH Kelly was responsible for all plumbing and HVAC work in the new Polar Bear Holding Building, Polar Bear Cave, Polar Bear Habitat, Life Support System Building, Storage Building, Café, Primate Holding Building, Primate Habitat and Red Ape Building. Additionally, JH Kelly installed a complete and operable Life Support System for the Polar Passage exhibit that included all piping, equipment, fixtures, devices, fittings, pumps, Ozone systems, filters, screens, Chlorine systems, pool fittings, grating and drain covers, gates, floats, water stop, link-seals, stanchions, supports, racks, grouting of baseplates, sensors, controls devices, piping heat trace, and insulation. That scope also included all underground piping systems, including the runs between the Life Support System Building and the pools in the Polar Passage.

The mechanical and plumbing scope of the project was extensive and incorporated a number of standard systems including heating and cooling, animal water, and other as well as some unique elements like the stream and pond water features in the primate habitat. However, the most complex and interesting component of the work was the Polar Passage Life Support System (LSS), which was an essential element of the revamped polar bear habitat. Originally constructed in the mid-’80s, the old habitat provided an austere concrete environment with limited viewing opportunities for zoo visitors and almost no ability for the bear to see out of their enclosure. The revised habitat included large hills with natural dirt and grass designed to allow increased ability for visitors to view the bears while allowing the habitat residents to be able to see zoo visitors and other zoo attractions that they had previously only been able to smell. The new habitat also includes two new high salinity (approximately 30%) salt water pools with integrated panoramic viewing stations, one of which is 14 feet deep.

The LSS allows for the continuous water treatment, filtration, and monitoring of the salt water in the Polar Passage pools. The high flow system included two 1,000 gpm pumps and a robust filtration and treatment system that included filtration screens to remove polar bear hair, sand filters, and chemical (chlorine) and UV treatment. It was specifically designed for this application and required consideration for the unique residents of the habitat as well as the high salinity of the water it was processing.

Nora, the Oregon Zoo’s resident polar bear, returned to her new habitat in March of this year, after a four year hiatus. Her finished habitat and the unique Life Support System that makes it possible is a fitting centerpiece and continues to be one of the most popular attractions at the Oregon Zoo. JH Kelly is proud to have played a role in this unique project!



JH Kelly performed our scope of work on this project across 18,224 labor hours with no injuries. This was largely a result of the following initiatives that were successfully implemented on the project:

  • A comprehensive corporate safety plan, employee onboarding process, task-specific safety training, and site-specific safety plan.
  •  Extensive project planning that maximized the use of prefabricated and preassembled components, taking a significant percentage of the work out of the field and allowing it to be performed in a controlled shop environment.
  • Uniform use of pre-task planning for all field work also allowed our field crews to ensure that every member of our field team was prepared, had proper PPE, and the best equipment to perform the work prior to the start of any construction activity.
  • Active and engaged leadership that reinforced the importance of safety during project planning and execution and supported a culture of safety through regular, documented safety reviews of the site.
  • A safety culture that has been painstakingly constructed at all levels of the organization and has resulted in increased near-miss reporting, broader dissemination of lessons-learned, improved safety planning, and increased engagement at both craft and leadership levels.


Goals & Objectives

The project was guided from start to finish by the strategic goals of the project, which included more humane care and environments for the animals, better protection of animal health and safety, improved access to conservation education, increased water conservation and reuse, and improved water quality. JH Kelly supported those goals by ensuring the constructibility, timeliness, and quality of the project components that fell within our scope of work. We fulfilled those goals by working closely with PAE and TJP (the designers

for the MEP systems and LSS respectively) to review, correct, and improve the design model prior to construction, and maximize the involvement of our nearly 250,000 sf of LEAN manufacturing space through prefabrication and preassembly wherever possible. We also worked closely with both the design team and the General Contractor, Lease Crutcher Lewis, to resolve design, constructability, or placement issues as early as possible to facilitate timely material and equipment procurement and construction.

Front-End Loading & Project Planning

Many of the scopes of work on this project, especially those involved in the LSS, were very unique and required specialized construction methodologies, materials, and equipment. JH Kelly’s work included a number of highly specialized scopes, but also required coordination with the specialized scopes of other trade partners and Lease Crutcher Lewis. Consequently, the project included extensive project planning and front-end work to ensure success at project completion. For JH Kelly, this looked like using our detailing capability to review the design models, correcting issues, improving routing or coordination with other trades, and incorporating the maximum amount of prefabrication and preassembly possible. As a result of this effort, we were able model and prefabricate over 5,000 lf of underground HDPE pipe, as well as majority of the above-ground piping, and preassemble the bulk of equipment and systems that comprised the LSS system. This effort ensured that the critical path items in JH Kelly’s scope of work were completed well before scheduled dates and limited our onsite personnel, decreasing trade stacking and assisting the project overall.

In addition, because of the high salinity and unique application of the equipment utilized in the LSS, we needed to work closely with the design team, Lease Crutcher Lewis, and our trade partners to finalize the type, dimensions, and specific attributes of the material and equipment used on the project, which were invariably long lead items. This upfront work by our dedicated team members allowed us to meet a tight construction window despite lead times that stretched out as far as 26 weeks for some items.


Cost & Schedule

Despite the complicated and unique nature of this project, our project team was able to maintain both the budget and schedule for the project throughout. Additions to the budget were the result of client or designer-requested changes to the scope that we gladly accommodated. The schedule did slip slightly. However, that was the result of significant permitting delays as the Lease Crutcher Lewis team worked with the City of Portland to obtain separate permits to perform the work in each of the areas included in the project scope (LSS, Primate Center, Rhino, Cafe, etc.). This was exacerbated in the latter stages of permitting as deferred submittals (specifically seismic submittals) experienced processing delays as COVID began to shut down city offices.

Despite those hiccups, the project team was able to overcome much of the schedule slippage and achieve substantial completion in time to allow for the exhibits to reopen as originally scheduled while final touches were completed.

As mentioned above, the principal ways JH Kelly supported schedule recovery were through the incorporation of prefabrication and preassembly and the upfront work necessary to accommodate early procurement of specialized items. This allowed JH Kelly to shorten onsite durations wherever possible and allow additional time for our trade partners to complete their scopes of work.


Project Partners

This project benefited from an excellent project team. Specifically, the design team provided a very well-thought out and detailed design model to JH Kelly required much less effort on the part of our detailers to correct and improve routing. This allowed our team to focus on maximizing prefabrication and preassembly opportunities, which benefited the project as a whole. Lease Crutcher Lewis managed the project exceptionally well and partnered with us throughout, greatly assisting our ability to complete our scope. the Lease Crutcher Lewis project team consistently recognized issues early, engaged trade partners, developed collaborative solutions, and enacted those solutions before the issues impacted schedule. For example, the LSS included a large deaeration tower, the construction of which was not in our scope. However, the tower infrastructure, including several long-lead items were. Lease Crutcher Lewis helped with placement and dimensioning of critical tower infrastructure in our scope of work to allow us to procure material, construct early and maximize efficiency. There were numerous examples of this level of partnership throughout the project.


Unique Features

This project was unique from start to finish. Because the project deliverable was meant to cater to the specific needs of unique animals, visitors, and, in the case of the Polar Passage, research goals, very little of the scope was duplicated from other projects. Some unique elements in our scope included the following:

  • Because of the high salinity of the pools in Polar Passage, much of the material and equipment was highly specialized. Many components that would normally have been galvanized or stainless steel were purpose-built in fiberglass. This included items like custom-color support strut and beams as well as equipment. For instance, the 1,000 gpm pumps had to be specially sourced through Northwest Pump from FiberLock and included fiberglass internal components.
  • Custom replaceable stainless static filtration screens that separated polar bear hair form the circulating pool water were built into the systems, shunting the tough hair fibers into a specialized hopper for easy removal.
  • The LSS incorporated three large 84”diameter, 12’ tall and three smaller 40” diameter sand filters. The media for these filters, which included 5 different rock types and specialty sand, had to be sourced through a vendor specializing in LSS filtration media in southern California and shipped to the project site.
  • The system required specialty LSS-specific check valves which had a 26 week lead time.
  • The deaeration tower media racks, which supported packing media deaeration product and are constantly subjected to high volume, high pressure, high salinity water were custom fabricated fiberglass racking. Because of the lead times associated with these products it was vital to procure them as early as possible. However, because the deaeration tower was scheduled to be completed as one of the final activities, it was impossible to verify as-built conditions in the tower in time to procure the racks. JH Kelly worked closely with Lease Crutcher Lewis to verify locations, dimensions, and other specifications associated with these racks to allow for early procurement.

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