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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

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