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Completion of Federal Building in Wilmington, N.C., Still Years Away

Mon August 01, 2022 - Southeast Edition
Wilmington StarNews

The Alton Lennon Federal Building and U.S. Courthouse on the Cape Fear River in Wilmington, North Carolina. (Library of Congress photo)
The Alton Lennon Federal Building and U.S. Courthouse on the Cape Fear River in Wilmington, North Carolina. (Library of Congress photo)

In the heart of downtown Wilmington, N.C., the Alton Lennon Federal Building and U.S. Courthouse is surrounded by a thicket of fences.

Neon orange construction dividers and tall chain-link fences cordon off the building, while construction carries on behind.

The building has been closed since September 2018, when it was heavily damaged by Hurricane Florence. The storm caused extensive flooding and a loss of power to the structure.

The U.S. General Services Administration (GSA), the federal building's caretaker, is currently in charge of its renovations.

Cathy Rineer-Garber, a public affairs officer of GSA's Southeast Sunbelt Region 4, told the Wilmington StarNews that the process of making repairs to the building began shortly after Hurricane Florence roared through town.

"GSA's first steps were to stabilize the courthouse and protect it from further damage until repairs could be completed," she said via email to the newspaper. "Currently, we are proceeding with comprehensive repairs."

Rineer-Garber added that the GSA predicts renovations to the building will be finished in the summer of 2024.

Much Work Still to Be Done

Birmingham, Ala.-based Brasfield & Gorrie General Contractors currently is working on the Alton Lennon Federal Building. In late March, the company was awarded a $31 million contract by the GSA to conduct the repair work.

City of Wilmington spokesperson Dylan Lee said necessary repairs to the federal building include replacements to the roof, windows and mechanical system, plus repairs to the building façade and interior finish. Historic preservation also needs to be performed.

Modifications to the design of the renovation work have included the addition of security designs for the U.S. Marshals' offices as well as elevator modernization and mold consulting.

All the building's windows have been removed and covered with plywood, though the doors are intact, the StarNews noted July 28. In addition, scaffolding extends onto the roof.

North Water Street is closed to traffic where it crosses in front of the federal building, though it remains open to pedestrians. Lee told the Wilmington news source that the city expects the construction's impact on Water Street to be over by next summer.

New Hanover County Property Assessment estimates that the federal building property is worth almost $12.2 million, but it is exempt from property taxes because it is owned by the federal government.

Renovations Have Undergone Many Starts, Stops

Counting Brasfield & Gorrie, as many as six different companies have been involved in renovating the Alton Lennon Federal Building since 2018.

Just three weeks before Hurricane Florence slammed ashore at Wrightsville Beach, just east of Wilmington, SBC Contracting Inc., in Wake Forest, accepted a contract to conduct mold abatement work. After the storm, the completion date for the builder's work was twice changed before SBC's contractual obligations were eventually ended in July 2019.

First opened in 1919, the aging federal building had already developed a mold problem before the hurricane, but Florence significantly worsened the issue.

That led to Atlanta's Southeast Restoration Inc., in February 2019, to accept a contract for more than $1.49 million to remediate mold in the building and mitigate other water damage caused by the tropical storm.

That same month, the StarNews reported, AFG Group Inc., headquartered in Herndon, Va., was contracted to do a building assessment and water infiltration study on the property.

"The assessment included recommending repairs to interior finishes that have been impacted due to water or mold, itemized budgetary cost estimates for each recommended repair and analysis of systems in the building and whether they can be repaired or salvaged. Priorities for this assessment included [mechanical, electrical, and plumbing] systems and an emergency generator," according to a description of the study listed on AFG's website.

Other companies involved with the federal building renovations included:

  • AECOM Technical Services Inc., a California-based infrastructure consulting firm.
  • CEMS Engineering, a South Carolina company that, according to the StarNews, appears to have completed the lion's share of the design work for repairs to the building.

CEMS was first awarded a contract for its services in late January 2020. Another awarded in January 2022 is its most recent design-related acquisition. The contractor often works on a variety of construction projects for the federal government.

Until repairs to the Alton Lennon Federal Building are complete, court facilities have been moved to 1003 S. 17th St., the former home of the StarNews.

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