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Youngstown's second federal courthouse crumbling already

Published: Sun, June 26, 2011 @ 12:01 a.m.

By PETER H. MILLIKEN | milliken@vindy.com


The Nathaniel R. Jones Federal Building and U.S. Courthouse, 10 E. Commerce St., cost $16.1 million to build when it opened in 2002.

Less than nine years later, however, the 52,240-square-foot building and its parking lot are undergoing more than $1.3 million in improvements that experts say were necessitated by questionable construction work that included improperly

installed fascia and an improper concrete mix.

“I find it astonishing that it requires that much maintenance so early,” said retired U.S. Bankruptcy Judge William Bodoh, who was

engaged in the building’s planning and design and had court there from its opening until his retirement in January 2004.

The U.S. General Services Administration, which manages federally owned buildings, blames construction deficiencies for some of the problems at the federal courthouse, which is partially enshrouded in scaffolding and adjoined by a parking lot that is closed for replacement.

The GSA is “diligently studying” the causes of the deficiencies that have occurred within the first nine years of the building’s life and exploring potential legal remedies for the work performed, said Gail Montenegro, a GSA public-affairs officer.

She noted, however, “Because the building is almost 10 years old, it is no longer covered under original construction or design warranties.”

Two major projects began in April and are expected to take six months to complete at the building, which houses U.S. Bankruptcy Court and IRS, GSA, U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration, U.S. Marshals Service and Federal Protective Service offices.

Those projects are a facade-repair effort and the parking lot replacement and drainage-improvement effort. A third project is tying the building’s lighting into the building automation system.

The building is named for Youngstown native Nathaniel R. Jones, retired judge of the Cincinnati-based 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.

Judge Bodoh said he was favorably impressed with Robert A.M. Stern Associates of New York City, the architectural firm that did the conceptual design for the building, based on other buildings the firm had designed. A Stern representative referred Vindicator inquiries to the GSA.

Despite its early need for repairs, Judge Bodoh said the building “almost perfectly” suited the needs of his court while he was one of the busiest bankruptcy judges in the country.

The $823,511 project to repair the exterior masonry began April 11, with Terrain Contracting Inc. of Steubenville as the contractor.

That project is needed because some of the facade is showing wear, including cracking due to water infiltration, said Neil F. Omansky, a GSA communications specialist.

Rainwater froze and expanded cracks in the building’s facade, explained Montenegro.

“The cracking facade is due to the manner in which the decorative fascia was attached to the building or anchored to the building, as well as improperly installed flashing,” Montenegro said.

Flashings are sheets of metal or other material used to weatherproof joints and edges in construction.

“While not unprecedented, the quantity of repairs is rather extensive for a building of this age,” said Larry Hennessey, project manager for Westlake, Reed and Leskosky, the Cleveland architectural firm designing and overseeing the remedial work.

“The brick and cast stone were not properly supported with the concrete anchors, and flashings were not installed correctly,” Hennessey said.

Terrain Contracting is removing and reinstalling the cracked artificial cast stone using the correct anchors and repairing deficient flashings, Hennessey explained.

In the brick portions of the facade, where brick veneer is cracked, the contractor is removing and replacing the brick veneer, he said.

The other repair project, which began April 18, will replace the parking lot and install better storm drainage.

The parking-lot replacement is necessary because of weather-related deterioration of its concrete surface, Omansky said. “The storm-drainage part of the project will prevent flooding” on the courthouse’s lower level, he added.

The project cost is $486,780, and the contractor is Pinnacle Construction & Development Group of Willoughby.

“The deterioration of the concrete parking lot is due to inconsistencies in the concrete mix at the time it was poured, and of course, the heavy rains and the severe winters of late have likely exacerbated those deficiencies” due to freeze-and-thaw cycles, Montenegro said.

The inconsistencies pertained to an improper amount of water in the concrete mix, which caused some parts of the parking lot to be thicker than others, Montenegro explained.

The concrete subcontractor was F. Ivan Law Inc. of Youngstown, whose president, Dan Garver, did not respond to a request to comment.

The lower-level flooding was due to backup of a combined storm and sanitary city sewer during heavy rains, Montenegro said.

To remedy this, the contractor is installing new holding tanks for the building’s storm and sanitary drainage systems to slow the flow of water into the sewer and installing an additional storm-water catch basin, Montenegro said.

“The building’s located at the bottom of a hill and is the lowest point on the site, which is challenging in terms of drainage,” she said.

Historically, the site was swampy, as was Central Square, according to Pamela L. Speis, archivist of the Mahoning Valley Historical Society. The courthouse site was a cemetery until the early 1850s, when the graves were moved to Oak Hill Cemetery.

Mahoning County’s second county courthouse opened on the site the Jones building now occupies in 1876 and was demolished in 1922.

The site was a parking lot before the federal courthouse was built.

Judge Bodoh recalled F. Ivan Law, the concrete subcontractor, as a prominent member of the Builders’ Association of Eastern Ohio and Western Pennsylvania with “a high reputation for doing quality work.”

The Jones building has been flooded four times, but, at no time were any court records or equipment affected, Montenegro said.

Because of the flooding, carpeting in a GSA conference room and the IRS office had to be extracted, cleaned and sanitized, and later replaced in the conference room. Tests for mold growth after the flooding were negative, Montenegro said.

“They’re at the bottom of a hill, and that’s where the water tends to flow,” said Charles Shasho, the city’s deputy director of public works.

“A developer, regardless of who it is, is responsible to control the runoff from their development,” Shasho said.

Shasho added that, as far as he knows, there are no obstructions in the city’s sewers that would affect drainage at the Jones Courthouse.

Because sewers near that building are combined storm and sanitary sewers, floodwaters due to any backup after a heavy rain would consist of both storm water and sewage, he said.

A third project, funded by the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (federal stimulus money), started last October and is targeted for completion at the end of this month.

That $442,127 project is connecting the building’s lighting to the building automation system and making the lighting system more energy efficient, Omansky said.

The upgrade also is designed to maximize the use of natural light to reduce the need for artificial lighting, Montenegro said.

The lighting project contractor is Chicago-based F.H. Paschen, S.N. Nielsen & Associates LLC.YOUNG


1Stan(9923 comments)posted 3 years, 11 months ago

A ten year life span for the building sounds reasonable . ..

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2timOthy(802 comments)posted 3 years, 11 months ago

You can talk about fascia and flashing which is roofers problem unless it's wood then a Carpenter installs it and then it's all Roofers ! As far as a Guarantee. They failed to mention what the Guarantee is and how long it stays in effect. New flash Vindy ! Foundation have a longer Guarantee than any said building. And it's five years on Commercial buildings . As for the building as you see it . Only has one year Guarantee. But the roof and other roofing jobs usually come with a five year guarantee too ! But what gets me about this who was the Project Manager and Superintendent ? That's where the problem started . Most likely some cousin,friend, or cult voter !

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3MLC75(621 comments)posted 3 years, 11 months ago

Where are the results from the concrete tests,for compressive strength.Also who was the geo-tech firm over seeing the testing and inspection? They would have known if the concrete mix was wrong,after reading the batch ticket.It sounds like someone really dropped the ball.

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4piak(508 comments)posted 3 years, 11 months ago

All the above posters are making good statements and asking the necessary questions.

Now my questions: 1. When does the investigation start? 2. When will the indictments be issued for the guilty parties?
3. When does the trial (or trials) start? And 4. Can we get Todd Franko to continue his excellent coverage when the "mud" hits the fan? Our Valley is owed this!

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5Nonsocialist(710 comments)posted 3 years, 11 months ago

-The contractor is still liable for substandard work (improper flashing, inconsistent concrete mix) even if it is beyond the warranty periods. Sooo...go get 'em.

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6ytownsteelman(659 comments)posted 3 years, 11 months ago

The Jones building was built on the site of the second Mahoning County courthouse? Really? Is it not true that the Cleveland & Mahoning Valley/Erie/Erie Lackawanna/Conrail right of way passed through this site from 1856 until 1985? Wow what short memories people have!

I am not surprised that the building is falling apart. Modern structures are not built like the Mahoning County Courthouse or any of the older downtown skyscrapers. They are steel framed with FAKE brick, stonework, architectural details added. In many cases the details are held on by steel clips. Not built for permanence at all, but rather to give the appearance of permanence. isn't there another building just across the intersection that also has failing clips? Dollar Bank Building perhaps?

Notice how a Chicago company got "stimulated" to upgrade the lighting systems. Shouldn't the stimulus money have gone to more labor intensive projects to get the most "stimulation" for the dollar?

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7andrew1967(36 comments)posted 3 years, 11 months ago

well looks like Youngstown will have to
call Bruce Springsteen in for a fund raiser I'm sure he wouldn't mind singing
the blues for you, next time you want a
building construction done hire a
Mexican the work is cheaper and better

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8redvert(2156 comments)posted 3 years, 11 months ago

Well, was this a union project? I don't know but someone was bound to ask sooner or later and it may as well be me.

Either way, let the fun begin!

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9dreamcatcher52(140 comments)posted 3 years, 11 months ago

I read the article twice because, although I see an architect and a concrete company named, I couldn't find the name of the construction company or contractor or whoever actually was in charge of building this courthouse. Did I miss it?

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10dreamcatcher52(140 comments)posted 3 years, 11 months ago


Guess I should have looked here first.

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11mrblue(1133 comments)posted 3 years, 11 months ago

A lot of money changed hands and the work was inferior. Cheap way out---isn't that the way things are done around here?

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12TonyL(44 comments)posted 3 years, 11 months ago

The Fed building must have been a shovel ready job the first time around. What will it be called now?

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13InColumbiana(63 comments)posted 3 years, 11 months ago

From the link above:

Architect: URS Corp., in association with Robert A.M. Stern Architects
Contractor: Dick Corporation
Gross Sq. Ft.: 49,282
Completion Date: September 2002
Cost: $16.1 Million

16.1 million and its falling apart within a decade... I guess I know to call Dick Corp when you need "quality" work that DOESN'T last.

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14Stan(9923 comments)posted 3 years, 11 months ago


PJ Dick, Trumbull, and Lindy Paving are a closely-held family of companies controlled by the Clifford R. Rowe, Jr. and Jane D. Burton families. Our companies operate with the integrity and honesty exemplified by our founder, Perry J. Dick and our Chief Executive Officer, Clifford R. Rowe, Jr.

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15TERRI_USA(30 comments)posted 3 years, 11 months ago

May be it was constructed by an army of Mexican , cheap labor. There a bulding that stood over a hundred of years an this one 10. I seems that craftsmanship has really went away to pre fabricated vaniers etc.

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16paulydel(1423 comments)posted 3 years, 11 months ago

Whoever was the original construction company should be made to pay for the problems that were uncovered. Where were the building inspecters who should have been following up on these guys?

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17Millie(192 comments)posted 3 years, 11 months ago

Wonder who else bid on this and if this firm was the lowest or best bid? What a scam on the taxpayers. Investigate and charge them to repair what they failed to do the first time or try out one of our sturdy prison cells.

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18walter_sobchak(2114 comments)posted 3 years, 11 months ago

Anyone in construction knows that if water is getting inside of a building wall, there is a problem with the flashing or coping. What needs to be determind is if the architects flashing detail was improperly designed or was the detail not properly followed to by the contractor. One would hope that an inspector would have seen the deficiencies in either case.

The concrete problem makes no sense. I don't see how the water content has any effect on the slab thickness. Too much water can make the conrete weaker, however. If it was too dry, it may have been difficult to place, causing overworking. This could lead to a loss of air-entrainment in the surface, leading to freeze-thaw issues.


DIck Corp. and P.J. Dick are two different general contractors.

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19Stan(9923 comments)posted 3 years, 11 months ago

Perhaps the responsible party of the contact mad a mistake who they were dealing with also . PJ Dick looked good on their profile . So Dick Corp is then the gypsy contractor . . ..

PJ Dick handles many big government jobs .


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20ThatsFineWithMe(3 comments)posted 3 years, 11 months ago


I believe this is the correct Dick Corporation...interesting that about the time they were building the courthouse they were experiencing some internal/cash flow problems in their company.

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21walter_sobchak(2114 comments)posted 3 years, 11 months ago

This is the correct Dick Corp. They are no fly-by-night operation. Ten year ago, they were doing some extremely large contracts. The problem with the wall appears to be coming down to the wrong anchors for the stone to the structural supports. If the anchors or supports allow to much movement and rotation, gaps will open in the joints, allowing infiltration. If there is enough, the weep holes can become plugged and frozen and the flashings would be doomed. The question is, were the wrong anchors specified or were the wrong anchors installed. This should be relatively simple to determine.

As far as the concrete slabs, I would bet that, due to the low elevation, runoff pools on the slab and excessive de-icing agents were applied. Once again, a few simple concrete core samples and some chloride ion tests should determine this.

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