Just 20 years after it was built at a cost of more than $10 million, the crumbling federal courthouse in downtown Pensacola will finally begin renovations this month that the federal government hopes will resolve the building’s vulnerability to leaks and contamination from mold.
The courthouse at 1 North Palafox Street, completed in 1997 at the former site of the landmark San Carlos Hotel, has suffered from water and mold intrusion since it was first opened, resulting in millions of dollars spent on studies and temporary repairs to the 100,000 square foot structure.
The General Services Administration, which currently leases the building, expects to spend between $18 and $23 million to repair the building.
The failings of the structure date back to when it was first constructed by Philadelphia-based Keating Development under a “lease construct” agreement with the GSA. Keating Development relented their ownership of the property in January to the City of Pensacola, which transferred title to the GSA.
Last year, more than 100 federal employees were forced to vacate the courthouse due to health concerns brought to the attention of federal officials by Chief Judge Casey Rodgers, whose chambers are in the building. Rodgers stated in a letter to GSA officials in March that more than half of all employees reported health effects suffered by the occupants, from nausea to chest pains and shortness of breath – all symptoms consistent with mold exposure.
The building’s disrepair has also forced elected officials to relocate staffs elsewhere. U.S. Senator and Republican Presidential candidate Marco Rubio said that he was forced to move his employees out of the courthouse after a pregnant woman began showing symptoms that were consistent with someone exposed to toxic mold.
In March 2015, Rodgers sent a letter to the GSA saying the courthouse had been infested with mold for 20 years without any permanent remediation. She also said more than half of the building’s employees had reported health problems consistent with mold exposure.
The building was completed in 1997, but occupancy was delayed until spring of 1998 because of mold and water intrusion problems. Employees reported problems again in 1999, 2003, 2011, 2012 and 2014.
Since the relocation of more than 100 employees from the courthouse, millions of dollars have been spent operating out of several other locations, including using two courtrooms at the Winston E. Arnow Federal Building across the street from the mold-ridden federal courthouse.
Renovations to the structure are to include a complete removal of the structure’s exterior facade and will include a redesign of the building, both interior and exterior. Additionally, the project will modernize the facility’s HVAC and outdated fire safety system.
The construction manager for the project is Mississippi-based W.G. Yates and Sons Construction Co., with Jacksonville-based TTV Architects and New York-based Beyer Blinder Belle acting as the project architects.
The GSA stated that construction is anticipated to begin this month, with the entire facility required to be substantially complete by September 2019.