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Miller, Boozman Tour Pensacola Federal Courthouse

Dave Dunwoody, WUWF Public Media

It’s not Pensacola’s hottest destination, but the closed U.S. District Courthouse downtown is getting its fair share of attention from members of Florida’s congressional delegation.

One month after Sen. Marco Rubio inspected the building’s mold and water damage that led to its closing last year, Cong. Jeff Miller and U.S. Sen. John Boozman of Arkansas were escorted by Presiding Judge Casey Rodgers.

“Fortunately, the General Services Administration now seems poised to do what it should have done many years ago, and that is to repair the courthouse,” said Rodgers.

The General Services Administration (GSA), which is in charge of federal buildings, moved all personnel out of the courthouse, and into offices in and around the Winston Arnow Building. Rodgers says moving forward, the court has two main goals.

“One is to do what we can to ensure that GSA does it right this time,” said Rodgers. “[The] second goal is to see to it that the construction is completed with all deliberate speed.”

The House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee has allocated $32 million for repairs and upgrades to the 20-year-old facility, which is owned by Philadelphia-based Keating Corporation

“This building is supposed to belong to the [City of Pensacola] at the end of July, 2017,” said Cong. Jeff Miller. “Before we put taxpayers dollars into the building we want to make sure that it is an ironclad contract that the current owner of the building can’t renege.”

Joining Miller on the tour was Arkansas’ senior Senator, Republican John Boozman (BOSE-man), who chairs the Senate Subcommittee on Financial Services and General Government. But he adds that Pensacola is just a part of the significant need throughout the federal courthouse system.

“It’s one thing to have leaking and problems with all that,” Boozman said. “But it hasn’t been that recently that we’ve identified the mold and health hazards that are going on.”

The decision was made last year not to tear down the existing facility, but rather to make mold and water remediation through both inside and outside renovations. Judge Casey Rodgers calls that the most expeditious path to getting the court’s business back to normal.

“But understanding that $32 million is a lot of money, and the taxpayers deserve, once and for all, to get their money’s worth with this repair and alteration.”

For Cong. Jeff Miller, the problems found at the federal courthouse are a symptom of a larger problem within the federal government, the lack of accountability.

“Poorly designed, a poorly-executed contract by GSA,” said Miller. “Unfortunately, the employees belong to the executive branch [and] not the legislative branch. And so there’s been very little attempt to hold people accountable all throughout our federal government.”

As it stands now, the General Services Administration is scheduled to award the contract for the project sometime next month. The work, once it’s begun, is expected to take about two and a half years.