Federal Courthouse Inches Towards Repair Funding
Repairs to the federal courthouse in downtown Pensacola have moved a step closer to reality in Congress.
On Wednesday the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee approved $30 million for repairs and upgrades to the 19-year-old facility, which has been vacated due to water damage, mold and other health and safety issues.
Court staff, the U.S. Marshal’s and Attorneys offices, and U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio’s staff were forced to re-locate to the nearby Winston E. Arnow Building, and other downtown locations.
“A number of different people from different agencies had been suffering respiratory illnesses and allergy-related symptoms for years and years,” said U.S. District Judge Casey Rodgers. “They’d really been suffering in silence and we didn’t know that. So we began kicking and screaming.”
Rodgers reported the problems last year, and predicted that the cost of repairs could reach $30 million: about three times the original construction cost. In April, 2015, she led a tour of the courthouse for Congressmen Jeff Miller, Bill Shuster and Vern Buchanan.
Equipped with surgical masks, the entourage was taken to the 1st, 3rd, and 5th floors, with Rodgers pointing out the trouble areas, including her chambers on the 5th. Miller called it a health issue for both employees and visitors 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 [General Services Administration] beginning to move in a good fashion forward.”
Cong. Bill Shuster chairs the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee that oversees the General Services Administration, the agency overseeing federal buildings. He said the situation 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 agreed that the top priority was getting workers out of harm’s way. GSA paid to transfer them to other offices in Pensacola. The second priority, he said, would be working on a long-term fix.
One year later, funding for the repairs appear to have one remaining step in Congress: approval by the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee. Cong. Jeff Miller has said he’s been given assurances that will happen.
Judge Casey Rodgers said last year that three options were on the table: tear down the courthouse and build on the same site; build a new facility elsewhere, or renovate the existing building. Rodgers favored the third, which was selected by the General Services Administration.
“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.”
When complete approval is reached, GSA officials say the work could be completed in about two and a half years.