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Tuesday, May 21, 2024

Feds award $31m contract for courthouse repairs; more than $10m already spent

Government contractors were hired to remediate mold in the Alton Lennon Federal Building even before Hurricane Florence made landfall in September 2018.

The Alton Lennon Federal Building sits on the Cape Fear River at the base of Market St. in downtown Wilmington. Repairs have been ongoing for two years. The federal government awarded a $31 million dollar contract for additional repairs in late March. (Port City Daily/Mark Darrough)

WILMINGTON — Two and a half years after Hurricane Florence battered Wilmington, the federal government has inked a $31 million contract to repair the Alton Lennon Federal Building — one of the storm’s victims that sustained damage from the prolonged rainfall.

The deal sets forth an Alabama-based firm, Brasfield & Gorrie, on a mission to make the space habitable once again for federal court staff, who have been displaced from their local headquarters since September 2018. 

While the newly awarded contract will propel the disaster relief project into its next phase, the federal government has already poured upward of $10 million into the coffers of private contractors in the time since the building, besieged by slow-moving rain pockets, fell into disrepair. 

The Disaster Recovery Act of 2019 set aside $91.2 million for repairing buildings that were damaged by Hurricane Florence and under the care of the General Services Administration, which manages the federal government’s real estate portfolio. 

When the building lost power during the storm, mold spread throughout the structure, spurred on by the hot and humid weather. The building’s existing mechanical systems were never reactivated, according to the GSA. Federal court staff were moved to a building on 17th Street, previously home to the StarNews, where they plan to stay until the building is repaired. 

One month before Hurricane Florence, the GSA was paying contractors to remediate mold and lead paint at the premises. In a press release announcing the new contract, which was signed March 31, the GSA stated the building has already “been stabilized to prevent any further damage.” 

Peter Moore, the clerk of court for the Eastern District of North Carolina, said his team is joyous to be one step closer to returning to the Alton Lennon building. 

“This will fix the issues created by Hurricane Florence: the water intrusion, the damage that was done there,” he said. “There’s going to be a tremendous effort for mold remediation and asbestos remediation, and lead paint remediation.” 

Moore described the work that has already taken place since Hurricane Florence.

“They’ve had to spend money on maintaining an environment down there to keep mold from growing,” he said. “They have done mold remediation already on the first floor of the courthouse.” 

Large yellow tube-hoses could be seen along the backside of the building this week, connected into the east-facing windows of the structure. 

Prior to the GSA’s announcement of the Brasfield & Gorrie contract, four other private contractors already held deals collectively worth up to $13 million for gigs related to repairing the Alton Lennon building. 

These contractors were tasked with protecting the building — especially to prevent a mold-friendly atmosphere from brewing within the deteriorating structure.

Large yellow hoses are connected to windows on the backside of the Alton Lennon Federal Courthouse, as seen Wednesday, April 15. (Port City Daily/Preston Lennon)

There is a $3 million deal with a company called URS, a contractor that was acquired by AECOM in 2014. AECOM calls itself “the world’s premier infrastructure consulting firm,” with 87,000 employees stationed around the globe.

Descriptions of URS’s Alton Lennon building contract state the company provided “CMA services,” likely a reference to certified mold assessment, starting in February 2020. 

URS previously occupied office space in the nearby Murchison Building in downtown Wilmington. An AECOM address is still listed there on the Wilmington Chamber of Commerce website, but the associated phone number is defunct. 

It is unclear whether AECOM maintains its Wilmington outpost. An employee at the closest company field office, in Morrisville, N.C., offered a phone number for Wilmington-based contractors, but upon being dialed, the number does not ring and the call automatically ends.

CEMS Engineering, a South Carolina firm, scored $2.9 million in a “design services” contract that started in January 2020 and runs until February 2024. Last April, another $1.2 million was tacked onto the contract for “construction administration services.” To date, the deal’s value has risen to $4.6 million for services related to the federal courthouse project. (CEMS did not respond to a request for comment.) 

According to government spending data, CEMS also provided so-called “high resolution imagery services” and “pre-construction destructive testing services.”

Southeast Restoration, a contractor based in Greensboro, received a federal contract valued at $5.3 million for post-storm work on the building. Its deal specifically listed remediation of mold and lead paint within the scope of work, as well as waste management.

The deal grew in value throughout 2019 as the contractor received more funding for ongoing environmental controls. (The company did not respond to a request for comment.) Southeast Restoration’s blanket purchase agreement lasted through January 2020. 

Finally, an Alaska-based company, Brooks Range Contract Services, holds a contract valued at $1.4 million that began in December 2019.

The company was originally set to provide “temporary cooling and heating” for 365 days at the courthouse, but then, for the added cost of $47,000, the end date was extended through February 2021, and then again through April 2021. 

Reached at the Fairbanks, A.K. office, an employee of the firm provided a phone number with a 910 area code, when asked who was responsible for carrying out the government contract regarding the Alton Lennon building. 

The number belonged to a firm called Facility Services Management, Inc., whose principal, Jim Modzelewski, declined to comment on the scope of work. 

The building was modeled after a former customs house that was similarly stationed along the Cape Fear River. Customs officials stayed in the Alton Lennon building until moving to the Port of Wilmington in the 1960s. (Port City Daily/Preston Lennon)

Construction of the Alton Lennon Federal Building finished in 1919. Its classical revival design, with flanking Greek porticos, offered an homage to the 1844 customs house building that previously occupied the site, according to Travis Gilbert, director of the Historic Wilmington Foundation. 

“Not only was it the federal courthouse, but many federal offices were in that building in its heyday,” Gilbert said.

As a base of operations for federal customs officials, the Alton Lennon building, located at the base of Princess Street along the Cape Fear River, hustled with traffic and travelers. 

“It was 1965 when the customs officials left to go to the port as we know today, down on Shipyard Boulevard,” Gilbert said. 

Brasfield & Gorrie declined to comment on their newly-awarded $31 million contract. The firm’s senior communications coordinator said the company was asked to direct all media inquiries to the GSA. 

Port City Daily sent a list of questions to the General Services Administration and will update this article when a response is received.

Brasfield & Gorrie was awarded around $250,000, for design phase services on March 31, and $3.3 million more was awarded two weeks later after the firm exercised contractual options. 

“The court is very excited that we’re starting the process to refurbish the courthouse in the Alton Lennon building,” Moore, the clerk of court, said.

“It is a wonderful courthouse and a part of history, for both the court and Wilmington down there, and we’re excited that it’s going to be restored to its proper conditions.”

Separate from the work concerning the Alton Lennon building, the U.S. Coast Guard is spearheading a project to shore up bulkheads along the Cape Fear River, with some construction work taking place immediately in front of the federal building.

According to a City of Wilmington spokesperson, the bulkhead project is expected to be completed this coming autumn. The GSA predicts the Alton Lennon building repairs will be largely completed by the spring of 2024.

“Repairing such a historic building takes time and finesse,” GSA official Kevin Kerns said in the press release, “and we’re grateful for the community’s support as we move forward on this project.”

The back of the Alton Lennon Federal Courthouse, as seen from Market Street. The Cape Fear River is in the background. (Port City Daily/Preston Lennon)

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