Once regarded as a key part of downtown Roanoke’s reinvention, this rendering of the Poff Building ran in the first issue of The Roanoker, as construction was underway.
Today? Congressman Bob Goodlatte (inset) declares “The GSA is out of control.”
The story below is excerpted from our Sept./Oct. 2014 issue. For the full story view our digital edition for FREE today!
The 2009 Stimulus Act fired $51 million toward a “shovel-ready” renovation project in downtown Roanoke. The lack of aim before the money was sent has contributed to massive cost overruns, to tenants who find the building worse than before, to a red-faced GSA and to one Congressman who has kept the whistle blowing on the project since 2010.
The $14 million Richard H. Poff Federal Building was heralded as part of Roanoke’s “new era” in the inaugural issue of The Roanoker in the fall of 1974.
A photo of the under-construction, 14-story tower ran alongside a cover-story essay by Founder/Publisher Richard Wells that cited the new federal building as part of downtown Roanoke’s reinvention.
Today, the structure has become a different kind of symbol: One of governmental waste, malpractice and bureaucracy.
“It’s a slap in the face of the taxpayers,” says 6th District Congressman Bob Goodlatte.
The Poff Federal Building was selected for a $51 million renovation project funded through the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009, better known as the federal stimulus.
But through a mix of mind-bogglingly bad (and allegedly illegal) bid management, cost overruns and all-around poor planning, the project cost has escalated to more than $80 million.
As the renovation limps to its conclusion, all tenants have returned: U.S. District Courts, the U.S. Marshal Service, U.S. Attorneys’ office, the General Services Administration (GSA) and the Veterans Administration.
Court officials, though, say renovation work has not only not improved their working conditions, but it’s actually decreased functionality and security. The elevator still malfunctions. The renovation plan didn’t take security into consideration, despite protests from people who work in the building, especially in federal court.
Because of the renovations, the formerly bulletproof entrance to judges chambers was replaced by a glass door and security cameras in the hallways were rendered useless due to technical compatibility issues. Jury members must leave through the courtroom, often right past defendant and his or her family and friends. Similarly, the only grand jury room entrance involves walking through a private lobby, often filled with witnesses, targets and their friends.
In June, Glen Conrad, chief judge for the U.S. district court’s western district, told a congressional subcommittee that security hadn’t been enhanced and in fact was diminished in some cases.
“For me, the most bothersome and disturbing reality is that five years from announcement of the Poff Stimulus Project, and after expenditure of millions of dollars, the user functionality in the court portion of the building has not been enhanced whatsoever, in any way, shape, or form,” Conrad said.
How did this well-meaning project, designed to update the building and make it more energy-efficient, go so horribly wrong?
The problems started with the stimulus bill itself, passed in February 2009.