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Federal courthouse project almost over after 6 years

Jason Cato
| Friday, Nov. 3, 2006, 12:00 p.m.

Long over its budget and construction schedule, a major renovation of the U.S. Courthouse and Post Office, Downtown, is finished -- almost.

Whining drills and pounding hammers still ring through the halls as workers complete details, but federal officials celebrated the end of the $87 million project Thursday with a ribbon-cutting ceremony in the third-floor lobby of the 1932 building at the corner of Grant Street and Seventh Avenue.

The courthouse never closed during the six-year project, though at times raucous construction work nearly brought the justice system to a grinding halt.

"It's not easy to do your job in the middle of a construction project," said Barbara Shelton, regional administrator of the U.S. General Services Administration.

Lurita Doan, head of the GSA office, said it was like cooking dinner while the kitchen is under construction. Project architect Shalom Baranes, of Washington, D.C., likened it to performing open-heart surgery on an elderly patient who is running on a treadmill.

But the project re-established the courthouse's place in Pittsburgh's skyline, Baranes said.

"These old buildings have the power to seduce us and give us dreams," he said.

The project added six courtrooms and 10 chambers, and restored the main lobby and five historic courtrooms. Security systems were enhanced and all workspaces were modernized.

U.S. District Judge Gary L. Lancaster, who oversaw the project, said it accomplished its goals. Historic courtrooms got a face-lift but retained their stately sense of a bygone era.

"It turned out better than anyone thought it would," Lancaster said.

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