House panel OKs funding to build Cape courthouse

Friday, June 28, 2002

Cape Girardeau's new federal courthouse project could move from the drawing board to construction next year and be completed by February 2006 at the latest, federal officials said Thursday.

A House subcommittee late Wednesday night approved spending $49.3 million for construction of a 150,000-square-foot courthouse on a four-acre site at Independence and Frederick streets, west of the Cape Girardeau City Hall.

U.S. Rep. Jo Ann Emerson, R-Cape Girardeau, said the subcommittee's action means funding for the project likely will be in the budget for fiscal 2003, which begins Oct. 1.

Construction dollars for the project weren't included in President Bush's proposed budget.

The project had been scheduled for construction funding in fiscal 2004.

"I am excited about the courthouse," Emerson said. "We were successful in getting this moved up a year."

Final House action is still months away, and the Senate has yet to consider the funding matter.

But Emerson said she expects funding for the project will win Senate approval, too.

If funding is put in the fiscal 2003 budget, a design-construction contract could be awarded in December and site work could start in April, officials said.

Congress in recent years has appropriated $6 million to buy the land and design the building, which will house federal judges' offices, courtrooms and offices for federal prosecutors, public defenders and U.S. law enforcement agencies. Federal court proceedings currently are held in the Federal Building on Broadway, which has little courtroom space and is crowded with non-judicial government offices, including Emerson's Cape Girardeau office.

The latest action by the Treasury, Postal Service and Government Subcommittee is good news for a project that's been in the planning stages for a decade and was derailed for a time by a Chicago architect's poor design.

Design-build process

The General Services Administration, the federal agency charged with building and maintaining government buildings, plans to use a design-build process to speed up the project.

The government will award a single contract to an architect and contractor that will work together as a team throughout the entire project.

"The nice thing about design-build is that you can start construction work before you finish the design," said Buster Rosser, assistant regional administrator for the GSA in Kansas City, Mo.

Emerson supports the design-build method.

The GSA embraced the idea after discarding the work of a Chicago architectural firm that drew up building plans that angered Emerson.

The federal government paid the firm nearly $500,000 before canceling the contract.

No air conditioning

Emerson last year objected to the design work of Ross, Barney and Jankowski. The firm had proposed a new courthouse with an atrium and skylight that would have been left open in the summer.

The atrium wouldn't have been air conditioned. Emerson shot down the idea, saying she wouldn't vote to spend money to build a federal courthouse without air conditioning. Since canceling the architectural contract, the GSA has looked at hiring design-build firms.

The GSA has narrowed the choice to three teams of contractors and architects. Those firms will participate in a "design competition" with the winner getting the contract for the project.

The three contractor-architect groups each will be paid a $75,000 stipend to draw up preliminary plans for the building as part of the competition, Rosser said.

The three groups are Clayco Construction and Cannon Architects of St. Louis, contractor J.E. Dunn of Kansas City and the Boston architectural firm of Kullman, McKinnel and Wood, and contractor PCL of Denver and the Fentress architectural firm of Denver.

Emerson said the new courthouse won't be outlandish.

"This will be a courthouse that fits into the architecture of the city of Cape Girardeau or we will not approve it," she said. "It will not look like a Taj Mahal."

Rosser said construction should be completed any time between June 2005 and February 2006.

The GSA has awarded a $470,000 contract to Pangea Group of St. Charles, Mo., to raze a few small, vacant buildings on the site. That work should get under way this summer, he said.

The federal government also is spending nearly $1 million to relocate an AmerenUE substation near city hall to a site a few blocks away on the northwest corner of Ellis and Independence. That work should be completed by late this year, said Doug Groesbeck, AmerenUE district manager.

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