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Daniel Ruth

Courthouse our own Poseidon Adventure

Taking in the news that the Sam M. Gibbons U.S. Courthouse has become the federal government's version of an $85 million fixer-upper, the thought occurred that the litany of boondoggles, foulups and cost overruns associated with Tampa's Taj Ma-more-money is something I might have done. • After all, over the years I can't even begin to count the number of simple home repairs I've been dense enough to attempt myself, such as painting a wall and producing either a surreal Dalí Museum offering — or a trip to the emergency room.

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But then again, I'm not a highly trained, professional, dedicated creator of edifices crafted with all of the attention to detail of the Haitian building code.

It was probably a tipoff something was amiss at the federal building when every time it rained the courthouse turned into a 17-story Tivoli fountain.

The judges who preside in the building were understandably not amused at the prospect of having to use their robes for shower curtains. And so it was eventually discovered the window frames for the fancy-pants federal courthouse had been installed backward. One can only hope these aren't the same folks who work on the space shuttle program.

Fixing the sieve-like windows — and this may come as something of a complex challenge for the building's landlord, the General Services Administration to grasp — will involve turning them around. To repair the window boo-boo and rewaterproof the $85 million building will run around $20 million.

Are you beginning to get the feeling maybe Sam Gibbons is thinking of asking the government to rename the building after, say, Tom DeLay?

Then again, maybe it's a good thing the windows leaked more than Julian Assange, since it afforded workers the opportunity to learn that insulation to prevent fire and smoke from spreading between floors was also missing in various locales around the building.

U.S. District Judge James Moody Jr., who chairs a facilities committee for the Johnstown Flood federal courthouse, applied his keen legal acumen accumulated over years spent poring over law books and stuff like that to conclude he was puzzled that nobody ever noticed the windows were about as effective at keeping water out as the Andrea Doria.

And Moody was further bumfuzzled why the missing insulation went unnoticed during construction by crack GSA supervisors who were supposed to be supervising the construction of the Ninth Ward Federal Courthouse.

For its part, the GSA has acknowledged it might be possible there were a few "installation defects." That is a bit like arguing that although the Deepwater Horizon rig blew up and all the gizmos designed to keep oil from gushing out failed, everything else was peachy.

And one more thing: The GSA is convinced the windows aren't really backward at all, they just really, really, really don't work very well. You can see out of them, which is a start perhaps.

Since construction began on the Poseidon Adventure Courthouse, the project has been plagued with myriad debacles: broken pipes, a leaky roof, mold and perhaps the best of all — the too late realization the judges' benches were too low, making it difficult for jurists to look out, resulting in an additional $1 million to raise everyone's seats.

At the moment, the GSA is suggesting the Clark Construction Group, the original general contractor for the Rains of Ranchipur Courthouse, is responsible for the building turning into Sea World.

Tut-tut, argued Clark Construction, noting before the feds took official possession of the Florida Aquarium Courthouse the GSA conducted an inspection of the property and concluded everything was beautiful.

Then again since the GSA didn't notice the mold spores, the leaky roof, the troublesome pipes, the glitch-ridden prisoner elevator and the judicial benches that made everyone look like Billy Barty with a gavel, why would anyone expect the agency would have picked up on the porous windows?

On a more positive note, once everybody starts suing and litigating and accusing each other for why a now $100 million-plus taxpayer-funded building leaks more than a 6-month-old infant, there will be plenty of courtrooms available to hash things out.

Or perhaps not. Clark Construction has suggested the statute of limitations has expired, relieving the company of any liability in correcting the Waterworld Federal Courthouse's shortcomings.

And besides, the company has other federal projects to complete, like a new headquarters for the super-secret U.S. Central Command at MacDill Air Force Base.

A gentle reminder: Don't forget to put locks on the doors.

Courthouse our own Poseidon Adventure 01/24/11 [Last modified: Monday, January 24, 2011 7:00pm]

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