By Duwayne Escobedo—
In one empty office in the north east corner of the federal courthouse on the fourth floor sits a trash can to catch water that bows the ceiling. Small sand bags line a doorway on the third floor to prevent water flowing in from an outside deck into the building where moldy carpet has been removed. Fans used to dry carpets and large air purifiers sit in several rooms throughout the 77,000-square foot courthouse that has clear plastic tarps covering many doorways.
U.S. Congressman Jeff Miller and U.S. Sen. John Boozman (R-Arkansas) took a nearly hour-long tour of the maze of empty and abandoned offices and rooms Monday that now houses little more than toxic mold and rodents.
The politicians were led through the building to view problem spots that exist on all five floors by U.S. District Court Chief Judge Casey Rodgers, who started the tour with an air mask on. The courthouse has had innumerable documented water intrusion and mold problems since it was first completed at the corner of Palafox and Garden streets about 19 years ago in July 1997.
The courthouse originally cost $10 million to build and is estimated to cost $32 million to repair. It’s unknown how long remediation might take but federal officials estimated up to three years were needed to fix the complex water leaking problems.
Miller and Boozman promised Monday in a press conference that the General Services Administration would make the courthouse useable again that Chief Judge Rogers has labeled the “Pensacola courthouse crisis.”
Miller said in “typical Washington fashion” there exists a few hurdles “until the money flows.”
Sen. Boozman, who chairs a subcommittee that controls federal building funds, said the GSA plans to make sure the remediation, “unlike the first time, is done right.”
“We are going to make sure it’s expeditious and can get going and get completed,” he said. “It’s such a nice facility it’s a shame (Pensacola federal courthouse employees) have endured it as long as they have.”
Miller put 100 percent of the blame for the shoddy courthouse design, which among other things underestimated water drainage and failed to properly waterproof the building’s cinder block, on GSA.
Referring to the iconic San Carlos Hotel that was allowed to decay on the same site as the federal courthouse, Miller said, “It would be a tragedy if we have another vacant building standing on this corner.”
Miller said to tear down and rebuild the courthouse would take about 10 years.
Miller would not endorse any of the eight Republican candidates running for his congressional seat that he decided not to seek in 2016. The primary is scheduled Aug. 30. The winner will face Democrat Steven Specht, who was the only candidate to attend Monday’s press conference and was wearing his campaign T-shirt.
“I would hope that everyone is paying attention to this particular issue,” Miller said. “After the general election, my team will bring that person up to speed on a myriad of issues that exist in Northwest Florida. Whoever that person is, we will be willing and able to help prepare them for Jan. 3 and the 115th Congress.”