Congressional panel OKs funding for federal courthouse project in Harrisburg

The new federal courthouse site as it looked in summer 2013. The 1500 Condominium, pictured, is the building across the street. - (Photo / File)

A U.S. House committee has authorized full funding for design and construction of the long-awaited federal courthouse project in Midtown Harrisburg.

A resolution approved today by members of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee calls for construction funding of nearly $155.4 million, plus $5.3 million for design. The total authorization is for $168.4 million.

No further House action is required. However, before any money is spent and construction can begin, Congress must formally appropriate the funds.

That may not happen for awhile as Congress has not passed a budget and is likely looking at a continuing resolution to fund the federal government, said George O’Connor, a spokesman for U.S. Rep. Scott Perry (R-York County).

No new money would be allocated during the continuing resolution.

Including prior authorizations to study the courthouse site at Sixth and Reily streets, the Harrisburg courthouse project is expected to cost $194.4 million, according to the House committee report.

The 243,000-square-foot courthouse complex — smaller than the original plan — will replace the current courthouse at Third and Walnut streets in downtown Harrisburg.

The new courthouse will contain up to eight courtrooms, including three for district judges, two for senior district judges, two for magistrate judges and one for bankruptcy judges. And there will be 43 on-site parking spaces.

Without clarity on funding and when it will be a shovel-ready project, opening of the courthouse is another unknown.

Perry, who supported the resolution, called the project a “major economic development opportunity” for Harrisburg.

“The viability of the Harrisburg courthouse project depends on timely and efficient completion of other courthouse projects ahead of it on the judiciary’s five-year construction plan,” Perry said. “I’ll continue to work towards reforms that ensure courthouses are completed on schedule and under budget.”

In April, a funding plan was submitted to Congress by the U.S. General Services Administration for construction and repairs on eight top priority courthouses across the country. That plan also included $29.5 million for “continued feasibility studies and preparation work” for judiciary housing needs in Harrisburg.

“This has been a long time coming, with various baby steps along the way, but now the Harrisburg courthouse will finally become a reality,” said U.S. Rep. Lou Barletta (R-Luzerne County).

In 2004, Congress allocated $26 million for site acquisition and design of a new courthouse in Harrisburg. The Sixth and Reily site was chosen in 2010.

“I am glad that the House has approved additional federal support for the construction of a new courthouse in Harrisburg,” said U.S. Sen. Bob Casey (D-Pa.). “This project has been a long time coming and I will continue to push to make sure the Senate approves this funding and the project can come to fruition.”

The courthouse project has long been discussed by city officials and developers as the next catalyst for significant development in that part of Harrisburg, which has several undeveloped land parcels heading toward Maclay Street.

State Sen. Rob Teplitz (D-Dauphin) said he was pleased with the authorization and he expects this project will be a strong part of the city’s ongoing revitalization efforts.

A Pennsylvania State Archives building project is currently in the works in that area.

“I think there are a number of things for the community to look forward to,” said H. Ralph Vartan, CEO of the Vartan Group, developer of the 1500 Condominium across the street from the courthouse site and owner of the archives site. “First of all, this is the singular federal building project in a generation, and it is going to anchor that end of Midtown permanently.”

He said he expects the courthouse will be a landmark project that professionals around the globe can study and admire.

“Local tradesmen can look forward to bid opportunities, and local officials can look to opportunities to build community capacity,” Vartan added, citing jobs, public art, innovative building practices and technologies.

 

This story was modified to include comments from H. Ralph Vartan.

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