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Over-budget: Renovations nearly done for Poff Building

10 News has final cost as Goodlatte calls project, price tag a ‘disaster'

ROANOKE, Va. – The final numbers are in for the tens of millions of dollars of cost overruns for the Poff Federal Building in downtown Roanoke.

A spokesman with the General Services Administration, the agency overseeing the project, told 10 News that renovations are almost complete and the building is mostly ready for use, adding that most work wrapped up this week and all work should be finished soon.

The cost for repairs is officially $30 million over the original budget.

GSA documents from 2009 show the project was supposed to top out at $42 million. Now, an agency spokesman says the total is $72 million.

After the initial construction plans, the government added to the list of improvements to make, including recent security upgrades. Bad original construction is another reason for the extra costs. In 2012, workers found a large bulge and crack in the brick exterior, which led to more renovations. They believe the issue was from “poor installation and inadequate design.”

Work on the 40-plus-year-old, 14-story building blocked busy Franklin Road and exposed the outer walls as workers took off bricks. Many believe the building has been a costly eyesore for nearly a decade during construction, and the price tag became controversial as it increased.

Phase 1 started in 2010 and cost $52.1 million. That work included energy efficiency and structural upgrades, as well as work on windows and the heating system.

Phase 2 started in 2015 and totaled $15.7 million, which is about $600,000 more than its original projection. It included work on the brick facade, which started in March of 2017 and cost $7.9 million. Perimeter security upgrades and repairs to the attached parking garage cost the remaining $7.8 million.

Other work included $1.7 million for retaining wall repairs in 2014, and $2.5 million for elevator improvements in 2017.

All the money has come from the federal level. The building, which is primarily used for federal courts but also has housed Veterans Affairs offices, was a big get for Roanoke in the late 1960s.

In the past decade it’s been covered in controversy. Among others, former U.S. Congressman Bob Goodlatte has remained critical of the renovations.

10 News spoke with him in Roanoke as he was preparing to leave office. The long-time Republican maintains that the government should have sold the building instead of making the renovations.

“This is a disgrace in terms of how the bureaucracy has wasted the taxpayers' money and no one's been held accountable,” he said.

He said work is even farther over-budget than the GSA maintains. He believes the total of $72 million is low. He thinks it’s more than $80 million.

He also believes the building still isn’t good enough for the people who work inside.

“The number of things that have occurred here is just unbelievably bad,” he said. “I think the people who work in this building will tell you that the improvements don't offset the problems."

He said there are still logistical problems -- like prisoners walking by the jury room.

“If they had moved to a new building it would have been far more energy efficient, far more modern, far more safe and would have met the needs of the courts,” he said.

He said, at the time, that the government should have found a new building in Roanoke for the federal courts.

“I've been told by local architects and engineers here in Roanoke that two new buildings, a new courthouse and a new veterans building, could have been built for half the cost that they're going to ultimately spend on this building,” Goodlatte said.

The project began under an initiative during the Obama administration to fund “shovel-ready” projects. Goodlatte believes the Poff Building shouldn’t have qualified for that.

“It's an outrageous abuse of bureaucratic power by the General Services Administration of the United States,” he said.

He says the agency hasn’t been transparent, and only cared, at the time, about a project that would get construction underway soon.

“This is an example of a bureaucracy, which is based in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, that could care less about this building in Roanoke, Virginia,” he said.

There have been two separate federal hearings on the renovation costs but Goodlatte said he didn’t get the answers he wanted during those.

He calls the whole project a “disaster.”

The GSA didn’t comment when 10 News asked a spokesman to respond to Goodlatte’s statements. Spokespeople have repeatedly said the project has stayed on time and within budget.