It's going to be years before repairs to the downtown federal building are done. Here's why.

·3 min read
Construction on the Alton Lennon Federal Building and U.S. Courthouse as seen on July 25, 2022. The building has been closed for repairs since Hurricane Florence in 2018.
Construction on the Alton Lennon Federal Building and U.S. Courthouse as seen on July 25, 2022. The building has been closed for repairs since Hurricane Florence in 2018.

In the heart of downtown Wilmington, 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 it was devastated by Hurricane Florence in 2018. The hurricane caused extensive flooding and a loss of power to the building.

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

Public affairs officer for Southeast Sunbelt Region 4 of the GSA, Cathy Rineer-Garber, said the process of making repairs to the building started in 2018 following Hurricane Florence.

“GSA’s first steps were to stabilize the courthouse and protect it from further damage until repairs could be completed. Currently, we are proceeding with comprehensive repairs,” Rineer-Garber said via email.

She said she anticipates that renovations will be complete in the summer of 2024.

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

When contacted for comment, a Brasfield & Gorrie representative said that any inquiries regarding the project must go through the U.S. General Services Administration.

The front steps of the Alton Lennon Federal Building and U.S. Courthouse as seen on July 25, 2022. The building has been closed for repairs since Hurricane Florence in 2018.
The front steps of the Alton Lennon Federal Building and U.S. Courthouse as seen on July 25, 2022. The building has been closed for repairs since Hurricane Florence in 2018.

City of Wilmington spokesperson Dylan Lee said necessary repairs to the federal building include roof replacement, window replacement, building façade repairs, mechanical system replacement, interior finish repairs and historic preservation.

All of the building’s windows have been removed and covered with plywood, though the doors appear to be intact. Scaffolding extends onto the roof.

Where North Water Street crosses in front of the federal building the road is closed to traffic, though it remains open to pedestrians. Lee said the city expects construction's impact on Water Street to be over by the summer of 2023.

New Hanover County Property Assessment estimates that the federal building property is worth $12,190,700. It is exempt from property taxes because it is owned by the federal government.

Construction history

At least six different companies have been involved in work on the Alton Lennon building since August 2018.

On Aug. 22, 2018, days before Hurricane Florence hit, SBC Contracting Inc. accepted a contract to conduct mold abatement work. After the hurricane, the completion date for their work was changed twice, first to Dec. 21, 2019, then to Jan. 13, 2020, before their contractual obligations were eventually terminated in July 2019.

First opened in 1919, the aging structure had already developed a mold problem before Hurricane Florence, but the storm significantly worsened the issue.

A no trespassing sign hangs on a construction fence outside the Alton Lennon Federal Building and U.S. Courthouse on July 25, 2022. The building has been closed for repairs since Hurricane Florence in 2018.
A no trespassing sign hangs on a construction fence outside the Alton Lennon Federal Building and U.S. Courthouse on July 25, 2022. The building has been closed for repairs since Hurricane Florence in 2018.

In February 2019, Southeast Restoration, Inc. accepted a contract for over $1.49 million to remediate mold in the building and mitigate other water damage caused by Hurricane Florence.

Also in February 2019, AFG Group, Inc. 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 MEP systems and emergency generator,” according to a description of the study listed on AFG’s website.

AECOM Technical Services, Inc., a California-based infrastructure consulting firm has also been involved in the project.

CEMS Engineering, a South Carolina-based engineering group, appears to have completed the lion’s share of the design work for repairs to the building.

According to federal procurement data, CEMS was first awarded a contract for their design services in late January 2020. A contract awarded in January 2022 is their most recent design-related acquisition. CEMS frequently works on a variety of construction projects for the federal government.

Modifications to the design of the renovation work have included the addition of U.S. Marshals’ security designs, elevator modernization and mold consulting.

Until repairs are complete, court facilities are located at 1003 S. 17th St., the former home of the StarNews.

This article originally appeared on Wilmington StarNews: Alton Lennon Federal Building construction continues