Birmingham, Alabama’s Robert Vance federal courthouse will get $42.5 million makeover

Birmingham, Alabama’s Robert Vance federal courthouse will get $42.5 million makeover

Money from act to repair, upgrade

Saturday, April 04, 2009


News staff writer

The Robert S. Vance Federal Building and Courthouse in downtown Birmingham will soon get a $42.5 million makeover that also will make the historic structure a little greener, the federal government announced this week.

Work on the building along Fifth Avenue North is part of the $5.6 billion being spent under the recent American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, according to the Government Services Administration. The money will go to build 17 federal facilities and renovate or make energy efficient 237 others, while also providing jobs to stimulate the economy, according to the GSA.

The GSA put together a list of the projects to submit to the White House, which approved it earlier this week, said Gary Mote, regional public affairs officer for the GSA in Atlanta.

According to Mote, the Vance building project will include: window repair and replacement; exterior wall repairs, water drainage repairs; heating and cooling system upgrades, including new control systems; elevator upgrades to comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act; and roof repairs or replacement.

Two other federal buildings, in Montgomery and Mobile, also will get nearly $14 million in renovations under the plan. The John A. Campbell Courthouse in Mobile will get $2.6 million and the Frank Johnson Courthouse Annex in Montgomery $11.3 million in renovations, Mote said.

He said bids will be taken and work should begin within 120 days.

The U.S. Bankruptcy Court for the Northern District of Alabama and the federal probation department are the two primary tenants in the 173,993-square-foot Vance building.

“This is a beautiful old building but there are obviously some repairs that are needed,” said Scott Ford, clerk of the bankruptcy court. “The roof leaks at places. We are in desperate need of funds to repair it in the right way to preserve it for a long time.”

The four-story marble and brick neo-classical structure was built in 1921 to house the post office and federal agencies, Mote said. The building is listed on the National Register for Historical Places.

Marjorie White, director of the Birmingham Historical Society said courts later moved into the building, and it was the backdrop for some of the court battles during the civil rights era.

U.S. District Court and appeals court offices moved into the new Hugo L. Black U.S. Courthouse in 1987. The old courthouse was named for federal appeals court judge Robert S. Vance in 1990, a year after he was killed by a mail bomb at his Mountain Brook home.

For many Birmingham old-timers, the building with its two-story colonnade facing Fifth Avenue North will most be remembered as the post office.

It was built during the era of the grand post offices across America, she said. “It’s an absolutely gorgeous building.”

HH&B will be the Mechanical Engineering Consultant for this Renovation project.