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ORLANDO-Five Orlando-based federal judges on July 16 are expected to give their second personal opinion in six months when architects unveil the redesign of the planned $60-million, four-story, 308,000-sf courthouse for the middle district of Florida.

The judges’ first opinions in February were less than praiseworthy. They thought the glass-walled front of the building would make them sitting ducks for potential terrorist snipers or underworld assassins firing from a vehicle on nearby Interstate 4.

The General Services Administration, the largest property owner in the United States and an historical tyrant on property matters, was not amused by the judges’ opinions. But the GSA, under local and Washington political pressure, took the project back to the drawing board in a rare display of retreat.

“You can count on one hand the number of times the GSA has taken a blueprint back to its architects after federal judges or other government officials said they didn’t like the looks of a project,” an Orlando independent space planner intimate with the courthouse design tells GlobeSt.com on condition of anonymity.

At $194.80 per sf, the new building will replace the 25-year-old, four-story, 150,000-sf George C.Young US Courthouse complex at 80 N. Hughey Ave. near the corner of Division Street and Central Avenue in the economically-deprived Parramore district of Downtown. Ground-breaking is slated for 2002 with completion anticipated in 2005.

The existing structure, which will be demolished, was built with pre-stressed concrete components and has a minimum of exterior glass. The building is often called Fort Young because of its fortress-like appearance, which the judges like. The courthouse was named after George C. Young, a retired senior judge who still sits on the bench when needed.

The individual judges and GSA officials couldn’t be reached at GlobeSt.com’s publication deadline for comment. Chief Judge Elizabeth Kovachevich, however, is on record as noting the Orlando federal courthouse has one of the busiest dockets in the United States along with the highest rates of threats against judges. The existing building’s exterior is graced with several bullet holes from past confrontations between the security staff and frustrated defendants and plaintiffs.

Kovachevich’s first choice of an architect was Henry Cobb of New York-based Pei Cobb Freed & Partners. I.M. Pei, the international architect, is a partner in the firm.

Lawyers who have periodically discussed the building’s appearance with the judges tell GlobeSt.com the jurists won’t approve any structure that doesn’t guarantee near-full security from outside weapon penetration.

“These guys (architects) often draw buildings to please themselves and not to satisfy the needs of the end user entirely,” an Orlando architect not associated with commercial office or industrial building design tells GlobeSt.com. “They often get carried away with the beauty of the structure.”

The project architect for the new federal courthouse is Boston-based Leers Weinzapfel Associates. The Orlando firm collaborating with Leers is HLM, which designed the $200-million, 25-story, 400,000-sf Orange County Courthouse five years ago. Officials at both firms couldn’t be reached at GlobeSt.com’s publication deadline.

Local architects familiar with comparable projects tell GlobeSt.com on condition of anonymity the usual negotiated fee will be in the 1% range, or about $600,000. Typical structures, depending on size and cost, generally fall into the half percent to 4% range, the architects tell GlobeSt.com.

Besides the federal judiciary, the new courthouse will house the US Clerk’s Office, US Probation, US Pretrial Services and the US Marshals’ office.

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