Omnibus Earmark Sparks San Diego Project
(12/02/2009)

SAN DIEGO — The new U.S. courthouse proposed for downtown San Diego moved a step closer to reality as President Barack Obama signed a $410 billion omnibus-spending bill.

The federal appropriations package included a $110 million earmark for the San Diego courthouse, bringing total federal funding for the project to almost $370 million.

The funding will allow officials to move the project bidding process forward, sign construction contracts and reignite the long-stalled courthouse expansion.

“This project has been shovel ready for a while,” says Rep. Susan Davis, D-San Diego, who led efforts to secure construction funds for the project.

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“The additional funding will allow us to move on to the next phase for this much needed judicial building,” she says.

The proposed courthouse expansion will deliver a new 16-story annex with 380,000 square feet of space, 14 courtrooms and judicial chambers for 20 judges of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit. The new court building will be built on a 2.5-acre site facing the existing Edward J. Schwartz federal courthouse, which is one of the busiest border courts in the United States.

“The new building will help relieve some of the caseload, provide much needed space and implement critical security measures,” Davis says.

The annex also will provide office space for the district clerk, U.S. Marshals Service and U.S. Pretrial Services. The design includes a 20,000-square-foot civic plaza that connects the new courthouse building with the existing federal courthouse and 36,000-square-foot mural garden.

The Government Services Administration suspended the project in 2007 as regional factors, including ballooning construction costs and seismic mitigation measures, increased project costs beyond the previously authorized budget.

In recent years, federal authorities have looked to minimize courthouse construction costs deemed excessive by the U.S. Government Accountability Office.

As reported in Correctional News (see January/February 2008), federal officials forced a number changes to the original Richard Meier & Partners design in an attempt to cut costs and keep the project on track and under budget. The building was scaled back from its original 22-story design to 16 stories, which reduced the number of courtrooms to 14.

However, the recent decline in materials and construction costs could prompt officials to restore many of the aesthetic design elements discarded during the earlier cost-cutting drive, which streamlined the building’s footprint and simplified its structural framing, officials say.

Cuts included the removal of architectural flourishes and features from building exteriors, while the glass rotunda that forms the courthouse entryway was also downsized.

However, the building will not stretch to its original 22 stories, officials say.

Several new bids have already been submitted and contracts could be awarded by May, officials say. If groundbreaking proceeds by this summer, as planned, the court annex, which would become one of the most expensive federal courthouses, could open by 2012.

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