Construction proceeds on Cape's emerging behemoth

Tuesday, October 18, 2005

Much like the newly restored Marquette Hotel, the new $50 million federal courthouse already dominates the downtown Cape Girardeau skyline, even though the completion date is still more than a year away.

But it doesn't look that way. Drive past the approximately 150,000-square-foot behemoth at Independence and Frederick streets and you'd swear occupancy was just days away.

But Jim Snedegar, the federal courthouse project construction manager for the General Services Administration, says there's still much to do.

"I think it's looking very good," Snedegar said. "I'm very pleased with the building, the construction quality. We're getting close. But there's still quite a bit left."

Construction is proceeding inside the building as well as outside.

On Monday, workers swarmed the courthouse grounds. Men on scaffolds locked in and sealed windows that will make up a grand atrium. Dirt was being moved to install a sprinkler system. Concrete workers paved sealant around the short walls that line the sidewalk.

"We're staying busy," said one weary construction worker as he took a quick water break.

Snedegar said trim is being put on the windows. A parking lot on the south of the building is finished, but awaits lighting and striping.

He said the substantial work for the exterior is expected to be finished by Dec. 23. That also includes the public spaces within the building, which excludes the courtrooms and offices for the 11 tenants, including the U.S. marshals, prosecutors and the GSA, he said.

After the first of the year, a separate contractor will build all of the offices and courtrooms, he said. He estimated that the interior construction will take eight months. A couple of months will need to be set aside for federal employees to move into their new offices.

The building should be open to the public and ready for business in November or December of 2006.

Officials held a groundbreaking ceremony in November 2003, and full-scale construction work began in February 2004.

Federal judge Stephen N. Limbaugh Sr., a longtime proponent of getting a new federal courthouse in Cape Girardeau, said a meeting is set up for next month to consider options for the interior design.

"It really looks great," Limbaugh said of the building. "But it's been a month since I've been there."

Some have suggested that a new courthouse isn't necessary, especially considering that there isn't even a full-time federal judge stationed here.

Limbaugh said he believes that will change, especially in light of a heavy caseload. An average of 160 to 180 civil cases and 100 to 125 criminal cases are on the docket at any given time.

There is a bill in Congress to change the temporary judgeship status for Cape Girardeau to a permanent one. That is the first step to getting a full-time judge, Limbaugh said.

He said when that status is changed, Cape Girardeau could get a full-time judge when one retires or takes senior status. Currently, Judge Donald Stohr is close to taking senior status, he said, which is basically a semiretirement position for federal judges.

Then, President Bush would nominate a new judge and could request that the judge be full time. Limbaugh has said he doesn't think that would be a problem, considering it would save judges trips from St. Louis to handle cases.

"So I'm hoping that person would be permanent," he said. "Right now, it hinges on getting that existing bill passed. It's in the hopper."

335-6611, extension 137

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