Federal Courthouse Expansion Costs Jump to $300 Million Despite Streamlining

SAN DIEGO — The new U.S. courthouse building in downtown San Diego could become the third-most expensive federal courthouse in the United States after cost projections increased to more than $300 million.

Congress is considering a request for an additional $80 million to fund the expansion project, which was previously budgeted at $230 million, officials say. The recently opened $315 million courthouse in Brooklyn, N.Y, and a planned courthouse in Los Angeles budgeted at almost $400 million are the only federal courthouse projects more expensive than the proposed San Diego facility.

Officials blame increased regional construction costs and seismic mitigation components for the budget revisions. Federal officials have already made changes to the original Richard Meier & Partners design in an effort to cut costs.

The revised plans eliminate several aesthetic components and streamline the building’s footprint and structural framing, officials say. A 20,000-square-foot civic plaza that connects the new courthouse building with the existing Schwartz federal courthouse will remain part of the design.

The courthouse was scaled back from its original 22-story design to 16 stories, reducing the number of courtrooms in the building to 14.

The proposed courthouse expansion was initially designed to meet district court demands for the next 30 years, officials say. However, the scaled-back design and reduced capacity mean the facility will be insufficient to shoulder the growing caseload beyond 2020, officials say.

In recent years, the federal court system has attempted to minimize court construction costs following criticism of excessive courthouse budgets from the U.S. Government Accountability Office, experts say.

In 2007, federal court officials issued a design guide for new courthouse projects that recommends standardized building layouts and smaller judicial chamber, law library and public space components.

If Congress authorizes the additional expenditure for the San Diego courthouse, construction work is scheduled to begin in spring 2008.

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