St. Petersburg residents are not the only ones dealing with inflation and struggling to afford the cost of a new home.
Just over a month after local and state officials celebrated breaking ground on a long-awaited 2nd District Court of Appeal (DCA) facility – and its namesake, Bernie McCabe – the project is hitting a roadblock. Judge Jonathan Gerber of the Fourth District Court of Appeal told the House Justice Appropriations Subcommittee during Wednesday’s meeting that despite reducing the courthouse’s footprint, it still needs an additional $9 million to move forward.
Former House Speaker Chris Sprowls helped secured $50 million to begin construction on the new courthouse adjacent to St. Petersburg’s Mirror Lake in April 2021. However, Gerber said the governor’s veto pen and soaring costs have left the project underfunded and delayed its timeline.
“Material costs are off the charts,” said Gerber. “Steel – 120 percent inflation. We need this courthouse to be built. Unfortunately, the timing of it is just not working out.”
The site for a long-awaited new 2nd DCA courthouse was the source of much legislative debate after a study concluded that Lakeland was an untenable location nearly six years ago. Sprowls and former St. Pete Sen. Jeff Brandes began pushing to build a new facility on the site of the state-owned Sebring building at 525 Mirror Lake Dr. N.
However, the plans remained in jeopardy until January 2022, when lawmakers voted to create a 6th DCA in Lakeland. That allowed construction of a new courthouse for the 2nd DCA, which stretches from Pasco to Sarasota County, to move forward in St. Pete.
Since the Lakeland courthouse was deemed uninhabitable due to leaks and mold, judges have heard cases from a Stetson College of Law classroom in Tampa. Gerber told legislators they might be there a while longer.
He explained that a 2016 study called for a 73,000-square-foot facility with 18 judicial chambers, two courtrooms and a $34 million price tag. Creating a 6th DCA allowed state officials to reduce its size to 53,000 square feet, 15 judicial chambers and one courtroom.
However, the cost is now $59 million and climbing.
“I do want to mention that last year … when inflation began to hit, the Legislature graciously appropriated another $15 million based on possible overages,” said Gerber. “That additional $15 million was vetoed by the governor.”
He added that the Sebring building was old and full of asbestos, which required remediation before crews could start demolition. That is now underway, and officials expect to complete the process by April.
Gerber said that if 2nd DCA Chief Judge Robert Morris kept the original design, it would cost taxpayers $69.5 million. However, schematic revisions have reduced costs by nearly $20 million.
“We (judges) consider ourselves – like you – to be good stewards of the public money,” said Gerber to the subcommittee. “We do not want to be building a $70 million courthouse. That is not in the best interest of us, the Legislature or the people of the State of Florida.”
He noted that the facility will now encompass three stories rather than four. Designs now call for a secure surface parking lot rather than an underground garage.
Gerber relayed that 2nd DCA officials will receive design updates over the next several weeks that will gradually increase in specificity. He expects to have construction documents by May, complete the permitting process in the fall and hopes to “put shovels in the ground” by January 2024.
He said the modestly designed courthouse should be ready for occupancy by June 30, 2025.
Despite the delays and request for an additional $9 million, he said 2nd DCA stakeholders are proud of reducing the inflated cost from nearly $70 million to $59 million. “And we’re hopeful that all of you will be supportive of these appropriations going forward, so we can complete this very important project,” added Gerber.
“The first thing that was built in a town … was the courthouse,” he said. “Because the courthouse represented that stability and law and order. Good for business, good for safety – it became a town square.”
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In the second quarter of 2021, steel costs did increase dramatically. And, then they went down, then rose again. And now? Less than they were in April 2021 when funding was secured. In fact, steel prices decreased by 12% in 2022. (General Steel).
So, while some other building material costs went up, the wild "steel is up 120%" reason (excuse?) for an additional funding request is completely false.
And, building material costs go up every year. At least they have every year since 2015. And, at a faster rate than overall inflation in all but one year. So, yeah - building the facility when it was first known it was needed would've been a good idea. But, getting it done now is still (very likely) going to cost less than in the future.
Did our leaders sign a contract that allowed the contractor to raise the price as their costs increased? If so, why? Contracts that require completion of projects at the agreed upon price do exist. For now, let's hope that a rare bout of reason breaks out in Tallahassee and the additional needed funding is approved. And then, let's not let something like this happen again.
Let DeSantis pay for it out of his presidential election fund
There seems to be money in the budget to send the national guard to Texas and to engage in frivolous lawsuits at the federal level, among other things. There certainly should be funding to replace an asbestos-ridden building and to build a new one for a new district. Cost of everything have gone up and delaying it will not solve that problem in all likelihood. I have to question the priorities of Tallahassee and the governor in cutting this item from the budget.
The 2d DCA has 2 courtrooms they utilize at Stetson Law School's Tampa Law Center along with substantial administrative facilities built out by the 2d DCA. They have done so for many years. While the courtrooms are sometimes used as classrooms, it is extremely misleading when the article says the judges have heard cases from a Stetson law school classroom.