Courthouse In Line for Renovations
Six months after the problems were highlighted, there’s a plan to fix the mold and water issues at the U-S Courthouse in downtown Pensacola.
U-S District Judge Casey Rodgers says black mold has plagued the facility – and the workers inside – since it opened in 1997. Court staff, the U-S Marshal’s and Attorneys offices, and Sen. Marco Rubio’s staff were forced to re-locate to the nearby Winston E. Arnow Building and elsewhere downtown.
“A number of different people from different agencies had been suffering respiratory illnesses and allergy-related symptoms for years and years,” said Rodgers. “They’d really been suffering in silence and we didn’t know that. So we began kicking and screaming.”
Last April, Rodgers traveled to Washington to meet with General Services Administration chief Norman Dong. Before that, she hosted a courthouse tour for a group headed by Cong. Jeff Miller.
The entourage – equipped with surgical masks -- was taken to the first, third and fifth floors, with Rodgers pointing out the trouble areas – her chambers, a jury deliberation room, the clerk's office and space used by the U.S. Marshal's Service.
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 problem, poor construction, and GSA, unfortunately, has been trying to sweep the problem under the rug.”
Joining Miller on the tour was Rep. Bill Shuster of Pennsylvania – who chairs the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee that oversees the GSA. Shuster said the problems should have been resolved 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.”
GSA paid for transferring workers to other venues, and said the second priority would be working on a long-term fix. Judge Casey Rodgers says three options were on the table: tear down the courthouse and build another on the same site; build a new facility elsewhere, and renovate the existing building. Judge Casey Rodgers favors the third, which was selected by GSA.
“The scope involves replacing the roof, replacing the entire gutter system, replacing every single window,” said Rodgers. “And then also to remove the entire façade of the building.”
But, some flaming hoops remain to be jumped through. The plan must now be submitted by GSA for approval by the Office of Management and Budget, and Congress -- even though funding – a dollar figure has yet to be released -- has already been approved with no new monies needed.
Rodgers says the renovations are expected to be finished roughly two and a half years from the date of their approval.