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Miller Tours Evacuated Federal Courthouse

Dave Dunwoody

Congressman Jeff Miller and two colleagues toured the federal courthouse in downtown Pensacola Tuesday, getting a first-hand look at the troubles plaguing the relatively young structure.

The problem is mold, along with water damage, and a recent study says removal and repairs could approach the $30 million mark: three times the construction price.

Federal Judge Casey Rodgers wrote the original letter last month to the General Services Administration, which oversees government facilities. She listed a number of structural and health concerns, dating back to the courthouse’s opening in 1997. She says the bigger question is how to solve the problem.

“Cong. Miller is deeply concerned about our court, and about the courthouse situation,” said Rodgers. “He’s made it a top priority of his to have this matter properly addressed.

Miller’s entourage, equipped with surgical masks, was taken to the first, third and fifth floors, with Rodgers pointing out the trouble areas: her chambers on the fifth floor, a jury deliberation room, the clerk's office and the space used by the U.S. Marshal's Service. Miller says it’s a health issue for both employees and outsiders with court business.

“So we have, really, the centerpiece of the downtown Pensacola area that is in trouble,” Miller said. “It needs to be resolved as soon as possible. And I want to say I appreciate GSA beginning to move in a good fashion forward.”

Joining Miller were two colleagues: Florida Cong. Vern Buchanan, a member of the House Ways and Means Committee, and Rep. Bill Shuster of Pennsylvania, who chairs the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee that oversees the GSA. He calls it a situation that should have been dealt with years ago.

“It’s not healthy for the folks who work here, and it’s a situation that needs to be dealt with in an expedited fashion,” said Shuster. “I intend to go back with Jeff to Washington and figure out how we can deal with this and move this forward to get the situation solved.”

Shuster agrees that the top priority is getting workers out of harm’s way. GSA is footing the bill to transfer them to other offices in Pensacola. The second priority is working on a long-term fix. As yet, there’s no time frame for either. But Judge Casey Rodgers says she is not in favor of tearing down the courthouse and building a new one.

As chairman of the House Veteran’s Committee, Miller was involved in getting improvements at Walter Reed Army Hospital, which had similar mold problems. But he says the two are apples and oranges.

“You’ve got to remember that Walter Reed was an extremely old facility,” said Miller. “This is a situation where the facility itself has had problems from the very beginning. Poor design problems, poor construction, and GSA, unfortunately, has been trying to sweep the problem under the rug.”

Federal Judge Casey Rodgers will travel to Washington, DC next week to meet with General Services Administration Commissioner Norman Dong.