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Photo by Max Marbut - The former Federal Building adjacent to the new Duval County Courthouse could be as much as two years away from being occupied by the State Attorney's Office, it was learned Monday.
Jax Daily Record Tuesday, Apr. 24, 201212:00 PM EST

State Attorney's Office move-in date up in the air

by: Max Marbut Associate Editor

The State Attorney’s Office new home in the former Federal Building might not be ready for two years after its design-build agreement was terminated.

The City Council Courthouse Oversight Special Committee was told Monday that Mayor Alvin Brown’s administration terminated the agreement with Elkins Constructors Inc. to renovate the building, located a block east of the new courthouse. Instead, the administration favors completing the architectural phase of the project and then soliciting bids for construction.

Chris Hand, Brown’s chief of staff, said the decision was made to save taxpayer dollars.

When the renovation is complete, the Fourth Judicial Circuit State Attorney’s Office will occupy the building.

Acting Public Works Director Jim Robinson, whose confirmation is on tonight’s City Council agenda, said the project is as much as 120 days from requesting bids. That process could take 60 days and be followed by a 14-month construction phase, he said.

He later described the possible timeline as “two years.”

“I heard ‘two years’ for the first time today. We can’t live with that,” said State Attorney Angela Corey.

“We need to be in that building as soon as possible. This will not bode well for our day-to-day function,” she said.

Robinson said the design for the interior of the building is 75 percent complete. The City wishes to possibly modify the plans after consulting with Corey and her staff, he said.

Hand said the City would meet later this week or early next week with Corey to discuss a new design for the interior of the building.

Robinson told the committee that Hand and Ronnie Belton, City chief financial officer, recommended terminating the agreement with Elkins in the belief the cost could be lower if the project was re-bid.

Courthouse project manager Dave Schneider said Elkins was chosen from among seven candidates for the job based only on qualifications. He said after Elkins was selected as the designer and builder, the firm offered a budget of $28 million for the renovation.

Schneider said that figure escalated to $28.5 million after Elkins received bids for the historic windows required for the project. He said the City told Elkins their budget was too high.

Elkins then returned to the City the first week of April with a budget that was $1.1 million lower, Schneider said.

Robinson said the decision to cancel the agreement with Elkins was made prior to the City receiving the revised budget.

Corey said she and her staff have already spent a lot of time at the City’s request designing the interior of the building where she and the assistant prosecutors and staff will work.

“I don’t know how to redesign it at this point,” she said.

Asked if the City might be liable for costs incurred to date by Elkins or for any penalties involved by canceling the agreement, City General Counsel Cindy Laquidara said there would be no termination fee because the contract was terminated for convenience.

However, she said “at some point, I will be able to give an accounting of costs incurred.”

Just before the meeting adjourned, committee member Denise Lee presented an ordinance she said would be filed to amend the ordinance governing the Unified Courthouse Program, 2001-410, to “provide for State Attorney advice and counsel” regarding the courthouse project and renovations to the former federal building.

Lee said she considers it a “friendly amendment” that would not diminish the administration’s authority, but would add the state attorney as a legally recognized stakeholder.

“We believe it’s our constitutional duty to be involved in this process,” said Corey.

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