When the Wilkie D. Ferguson Jr. Courthouse finally opened in late 2007, the Magic City waxed rhapsodic: "Beautiful" and "elegant," enthused one judge; "(People) will say, 'That's Miami!" exclaimed another. Even this publication swooned, naming the glass behemoth "Best New Building" and praising the "crystal ship .. plowing through waves" of grass.
All that architectural wonder didn't come cheap, though: taxpayers footed a cool $169 million tab. So how come less than two years later, the place is already under repair?
Walk to North Miami Ave and 4th St. and you'll find the block caged by six-foot chain-link fences and yellow police tape, the grassy waves patchy and dying, the central fountain dry and the reflecting pool stagnant. Inside, the roof is leaking. Now taxpayers are on the
hook for hundreds of thousands more.
Still, Judge Federico Moreno, chief justice for the Southern District of Florida, tells Riptide his colleagues are taking the new work in stride. "It takes a long time for a good wine to ripen," he says dryly.
The 14-story depot of justice, named for a pioneering black judge, was commissioned by Congress to ease Miami's notoriously clogged dockets. Thanks to local firm Arquitectonica's cruise-ship aping design, local leaders also pegged it as a new landmark.
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But the construction was beset with problems from the get-go. The ironically named Pennsylvania firm Dick Corp. started work in 2002 with a three-year deadline and a $100 million budget. Thanks to water leaks, faulty equipment, and subcontractor lawsuits, they didn't finish till late '07 and tore through an extra $69 million.
Now, two years later, 46 concrete benches need to be replaced, the ground requires repaving with shellrock, and the grassy hills must be resodded, says Gregory Andrews, an Atlanta-based spokesman for the General Services Administration.
Total cost to taxpayers: $188,952. Local contractor Azulejo, Inc. is due to finish later this month.
"Anyone who has ever watched federal construction knows it usually takes twice as long and costs twice as much," Moreno says. "But little by little, this courthouse is coming together."