Officials say crews will catch up on schedule for courthouse

Monday, April 12, 2004

Heavy equipment rumbles, and men in hard hats scurry around the site at 555 Independence, where by the end of 2005 a new federal courthouse will take shape.

Weather and some unexpected soil conditions have delayed the construction somewhat, said Dennis Miller, General Services Administration project manager from Fort Worth, Texas. But Miller said he is confident the construction crews will be able to catch up and finish the building by the November 2005 projected completion date.

The contractor, PCL Construction of Denver, had some difficulty drilling the piers as quickly as originally planned, Miller said.

"The soil varies from one boring to the next," Miller said. "The rain held us up and we were not getting as many piers drilled per day as we anticipated."

Miller said he personally visits the site every other week for a day or two. As the building progresses he will assign another GSA employee to spend several days a week on the site.

"It's coming along to my satisfaction," Miller said. "We're working on trying to improve the schedule."

GSA also has a full-time construction manager on site observing, inspecting and handling change orders, Miller said.

Barring further delays, Miller said, the building should be finished by the November 2005 target date, and ready to move into by January or February 2006.

The new courthouse will replace the one at 339 Broadway, which opened in 1968. The new building will accommodate a growing federal court docket with three courtrooms and room for 97 employees.

The total cost of the building is more than $55 million: $49.3 to build it and the remainder to buy the land and pay for the design fees.

Ground was broken for the courthouse building Nov. 3, and construction on the site began Feb. 29.

The courthouse had been in the planning stages for about a decade and involved more than one architect firm.

Fentress Bradburn Architects Ltd. of Denver designed the current building, the second design Congress paid for. In 2001, $500,000 was paid to a Chicago design firm. U.S. Rep. Jo Ann Emerson said she would not vote to pay for that firm's building as designed, so the project was canceled and the Denver firm took over.

John Mehner, president of the Cape Girardeau Chamber of Commerce, was a member of the GSA committee that met for a little less than a year before construction began on the courthouse. He remembers that local residents didn't like the first design because it didn't look like it belonged in downtown Cape Girardeau.

"It looked like a performing arts center on the West Coast," Mehner said.

The building also had an atrium with a skylight that could be opened; people were concerned that the skylight would keep the building from being air conditioned.

What Cape Girardeau residents wanted was a building made of local materials -- brick and rock -- in what Mehner described as a "more traditional, solid-looking building."

Miller declined to be specific about the building's security measures, saying only that they will conform to federal guidelines for all government buildings constructed since the 1995 bombing of the Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City.

335-6611, extension 160

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