Top 3 Challenges that Historical Courthouse Renovations Can’t Afford to Ignore

August 26, 2019 | Andrew Shipman

Historic courthouse renovation projects carry a variety of unknowns that make these projects incredibly complex. However, adding to that complexity are the unique security concerns and sensitive deadlines that must be met. Of course, these challenges are amplified in projects where court remains in session. While appropriate construction management and attention to timeline is always important, these projects demand extra attention in three specific areas.

1. Occupancy during construction comes with potential security issues

Historic and modern courthouses alike are often occupied buildings, and preservation must accommodate the need to minimize disruption to occupants, such as by working at night to limit the impact of noise, or to relocate them during renovation. As one judge commented at the onset of a construction project, “In the courthouse, people’s lives are on the line.” A judge who can’t hear what a person is saying because of construction noise is truly unable to perform his or her job.

In addition, security is a necessity during construction. In some cases, an escort may be required to accompany trades onsite. Working with a contractor or consultant accustomed to the security needs of courthouse projects adds an element of security/trust for the owner.

2. Sensitive timelines can be easily delayed by historic structures

Historic projects often have concealed conditions. Designs must respond to existing conditions, some of which lay hidden behind walls. In these instances, the best protection is to test early.

Project teams can start with non-destructive testing, such as ultrasonic, radiography, water flow, or building history research. If necessary, construction managers may need to proceed to minimally destructive testing before deploying destructive testing methods such as such as paint analysis, material properties testing or exposing underlying conditions. Dealing with the results of these tests may take time, so project teams need to investigate as thoroughly as possible early in the planning process.

3. Regulatory requirements can add time to federal renovations

Federal courthouse renovations must meet the National Historic Preservation Act, Section 106. This adds time to a project schedule. The act requires allowing time for interested parties to provide feedback on the design concept and agree on a compromise that addresses that input.

In addition, many historic structures contain hazardous materials such as asbestos-containing materials, lead-based paint or guano from birds or bats. These materials must be dealt with responsibly and in strict accordance with the prevailing health and safety regulations.

Working with an experienced and responsible construction manager who can guide the transition from construction to owner operations after the point of substantial completion becomes particularly crucial. Be sure to choose a team with a proven history of easing this transition for owners, so that even the toughest challenges can be tackled with confidence.

About the Authors

Andrew Shipman, CCM, LEED AP, has served as the Senior Project Manager for 3 of AFG’s projects with the U.S. General Services Administration (GSA) that have received Project of the Year Awards from the Construction Management Association of America (CMAA). Andrew has over 30 years of experience including for courthouse projects nationwide, and holds an MBA from the University of Maryland, College Park.

About AFG Group, Inc.

AFG Group, Inc. is a woman-­owned firm focused on multi-­disciplined program, construction, and relocation management, with a national portfolio of work in healthcare, laboratories, courthouses, educational facilities, and government buildings. With 30 years of business acumen, AFG has earned a reputation for providing strong expertise, responsiveness, and project execution that helps owners navigate through complex design, procurement, construction, and activation processes.