Sen. Marco Rubio toured the vacant Federal Courthouse in Downtown Pensacola Wednesday and said help could be on the way to re-mediate mold in the building.
Some rooms are cordoned off the mold is so bad. Dehumidifiers hum in other areas.
Chief Judge Casey Rodgers guided Rubio through the building, at times donning a protective mask. Rubio said his eyes were watering after just minutes in the building.
After a study ruled the building dangerous, it was vacated last summer. Most of the functions moved down the street to the Arnow Federal Building. In the meantime, the federal government continues to pay rent on the courthouse.
“So every month this empty building here and its owners are receiving a check from from you the federal taxpayer in exchange for getting nothing out of this building and have to work somewhere else,” Rubio said.
Two problems are at work. First, unlike most federal courthouses, the government doesn’t own the building. Second, its contract says the tenant – in this case a federal agency called the General Services Administration, or GSA – and not the owner – is responsible for maintenance.
“It’s the contract that GSA signed,” said Rubio. “Truth be told, the GSA waited far too long to jump on this. They’re good people but I imagine their view of it was ‘we don’t want to go to Congress and ask for more money on a building we don’t even own.”
So while the funding process plays out, the building stays empty, the taxpayer keeps paying rent, and work backs up. At the now closed courthouse, there were five courtrooms and a grand jury room. At the federal building there are just one and a half courtrooms, so Rodgers says the docket is backed up and justice is being delayed.
The building opened in 1999 on the site of the old San Carlos Hotel. The mold, now in the baseboards, walls, and vents started showing up about five years later.
“And it was just ignored for far too long,” Rubio said. “Had they jumped on it eight, ten years ago, remediation might have cost far less, but mold spreads and that’s what’s happened here, unfortunately.”
Rubio says it will cost 32 million-dollars to re-mediate the mold. The expenditure has crossed some key congressional hurdles but still needs the approval of house and senate committee chairmen.
Rubio says he thinks that can happen soon. Once it does, it should take about 16-months to bid out the project and get the building habitable again.