Federal Courthouse Shelved in Pennsylvania
(06/03/2011)

LANCASTER, Pa. — The federal government has canceled the $27 million courthouse project it was planning for Lancaster, according to recently published procurement records.

Washington’s attempt to cut discretionary spending and courthouse construction costs was sited as a reason for the cancellation, which was not unexpected.

The General Services Administration, which owns property and leases it to the federal courts, recently notified potential designers that the project had been canceled.

“Unfortunately, the subject procurement/project has been canceled,” the GSA wrote to architects it had been soliciting since last year.

The May notice is the first official confirmation of what many local leaders and architects interested in designing the courthouse had heard informally.

Local police, witnesses, bankruptcy litigants and prosecutors in federal cases will continue traveling to Reading and Philadelphia.

U.S. District Court Judge Lawrence F. Stengel, a former county judge who lives in Lancaster and would have presided over the new courthouse, will continue to serve outside the county.

Government watchdogs have raised questions about the amount of superfluous federal courthouse space and massive cost overruns in similar projects across the country.

The House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure, which must approve spending on new courthouse construction, announced earlier this year that it would cease to authorize new courthouse spending.

“After a thorough review by our committee, we have found that federal courthouses have been significantly overbuilt, unnecessarily costing the taxpayer hundreds of millions of dollars,” members of the committee wrote.

The committee’s decision to withhold approval on new courthouse spending followed a report on similar projects across the country over the past decade in which the Government Accountability Office found that the 33 federal courthouses built since 2000 include 3.56 million square feet of excess space, costing taxpayers $835 million.

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