Wilkie D. Ferguson Jr. Courthouse already under repair

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 what we termed a "crystal ship... plowing through waves" of grass.

All of 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 Avenue and Fourth Street and you'll find the block surrounded by six-foot chainlink fences and yellow police tape. The grassy waves are patchy and dying. The central fountain is 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 situation 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 built by local firm Arquitectonica. But the construction was beset with problems from the get-go. The interestingly named Pennsylvania firm Dick Corp. began 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 until late '07 and tore through an extra $69 million.

Now, two years later, 46 concrete benches already need to be replaced; the ground requires repaving; 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.

KEEP MIAMI NEW TIMES FREE... Since we started Miami New Times, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Miami, and we'd like to keep it that way. With local media under siege, it's more important than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" program, allowing us to keep offering readers access to our incisive coverage of local news, food and culture with no paywalls.
Tim Elfrink is a former investigative reporter and managing editor for Miami New Times. He has won the George Polk Award and was a finalist for the Goldsmith Prize for Investigative Reporting.
Contact: Tim Elfrink