Prominent Texas politicians break ground on new federal courthouse

by Gaige DavilaMarch 18, 2019
Mayor Ron Nirenberg (from left), Judge Nelson Wolff, U.S. General Services Administration Administrator Emily Murphy, U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz, U.S. Sen. John Cornyn, U.S. District Judge Xavier Rodriguez, U.S. Rep. Henry Cuellar, U.S. Rep. Lloyd Doggett, U.S. Rep. Joaquin Castro, U.S. Rep. Will Hurd and U.S. Rep. Chip Roy break ground Monday on the new federal courthouse at 214 W. Nueva St.Photo by V. Finster | Heron

High-profile Texas politicians, state officials and local leaders broke ground Monday on the new $144.5 million federal courthouse, which is slated to be built at 214 W. Nueva St., adjacent to a future segment of San Pedro Creek Culture Park.

They spoke about the project’s progress and its impact on San Antonio before digging gold-painted shovels into a designated plot of earth.

“It’s a bipartisan effort,” said Cuellar, D-Laredo, speaking on the efforts to secure funding for the new courthouse. Three years ago, Congress passed the Consolidated Appropriations Act of 2016, giving construction funding for a new federal courthouse in San Antonio.

The ceremony—which drew U.S. Senators John Cornyn and Ted Cruz; Congress members Joaquin Castro, Cuellar, Lloyd Doggett, Will Hurd, Chip Roy; U.S. District Judge Xavier Rodriguez; Bexar County Judge Nelson Wolff; Mayor Ron Nirenberg; and U.S. General Services Administration (GSA) Administrator Emily Murphy—was 15 years in the making, officials said.

Sitework will begin in April, and the building;'s construction will begin in the fall.

The John H. Wood, Jr. Courthouse at Hemisfair, which houses the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Texas, has a host of issues, including high levels of lead and iron in its water; asbestos and mold in its HVAC systems; and faulty cooling and heating systems, officials said.

The new 225,536-square-foot facility—which will house eight courtrooms and 13 chambers—will have a soft opening in December 2021, and a full opening in Spring 2022, according to Cuellar.

As of last September, the size of the project has been reduced by 5,000 square feet from its original 230,536-square-foot size. The facility will house U.S District Courts, U.S. Clerk of the Court for the Western District of Texas, U.S. Magistrate Courts, U.S. Probation and Pretrial Services, Federal Public Defender, U.S. Court of Appeals, U.S. Marshals, U.S. Attorneys, and GSA personnel, according to GSA’s website.

The project has received $144.5 million since 2004, when $8 million was appropriated through an Omnibus Appropriations bill for site acquisition and design costs. In 2010, another $4 million was secured for design costs, and in 2016, $132.5 million was secured for design, construction, and “other related expenses,” according to a press release.

Although initially scrapped from the project’s blueprint because of budget constraints, the Judicial Training Center will remain in San Antonio, offsite from the courthouse. The Administrative Office of the U.S. Courts and GSA are currently trying to secure a location for it, Cuellar said.

“We’re not going to lose the Judicial Training Center,” Cuellar said.

GSA awarded Brasfield and Gorrie, LLC, a private construction firm based in Birmingham, Ala., the design-build contract in July 2018. GSA also awarded Munoz and Company, a local design firm also overseeing the design of the San Pedro Creek Culture Park, a contract to serve as the design architect of record in 2011, along with Lake|Flato Architects. The firm has been the new federal courthouse’s construction manager since 2017.

“This courthouse will be a state-of-the-art facility,” said Murphy, the head of the GSA. “So the courts and their supporting agencies can fulfil their constitutional purpose of providing fair and impartial justice.”

Sen. Cruz said the new facility will address the current courthouse’s backlog of cases.

“The Western District has an enormously busy docket,” Cruz told the media. “This new courthouse will ensure we have the physical facilities.”

He continued, “San Antonio is growing at an incredible speed … the justice system needs to keep pace with that economic growth.”

The press conference with the politicians took a turn from questions about the courthouse to questions about President Donald Trump’s declaration of a national emergency to secure funding for a wall along the Mexican border. After answering a few, the senators were escorted away by bodyguards.

After the John H. Wood, Jr. Courthouse and the adjacent judicial training center are vacated, is vacated, it will be transferred to the city in a land deal with the GSA. It's not a given that the buildings will be automatically transferred to the Hemisfair Park Area Redevelopment Corporation, which is in a years-long process of renovating the former site of the 1968 World's Fair, Hemisfair CEO Andres Andujar said in a recent interview.

Contact Gaige Davila: 956-372-4776 | gaige@saheron.com | @gaigedavila on Twitter

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