Remarks of Honorable B. Avant Edenfield
United States District Court
Southern District of Georgia
to the Committee on Environment and Public Works

Members of the Committee:

Please let me express to you my personal appreciation for your kind invitation to appear before the committee today for the purpose of discussing the proposed courthouse annex project to be located in Savannah, Georgia. I have served as a member of the United States District Court for the Southern District of Georgia for nearly 20 years including one seven year tenure as chief judge. During this entire time my duty station has been Savannah, Georgia. Savannah is a unique and historic city founded in 1733 by British General and philanthropist, James Edward Oglethorpe, as the first city in Georgia, the thirteenth British Colony in America. As an original colony, Georgia ultimately joined in the formation of the Union of States as one of the thirteen original states.

By way of historic accident, good luck, and industrious efforts on the part of private individuals, much of the original downtown district of Savannah was preserved through the centuries and is now designated as a National Historic Landmark District, the largest such district in the United States. It is a city of immense beauty and charm. The city plan is unique in that the original layout of the city envisioned by Oglethorpe survives to this day. The most prominent feature of his city plan is a series of squares or open-air parks which stand astride alternating north-south thoroughfares in the city. These squares initially were envisioned as public gathering places or places to which the residents could withdraw in the event of hostile action by the Spanish or by Indians in the vicinity. Over the years the squares evolved into a series of over 20 oases in the central business district which have accommodated an active and vibrant downtown residential population in a central business district of superior livability.

The United States District Court for the Southern District of Georgia is currently housed in the United States Post Office and Courthouse Building which faces Wright Square, one of the squares laid out in the original plan established by Oglethorpe. More importantly the Courthouse sits on the very plot of ground which was designated by Oglethorpe from the inception of his plan for the city as the site of a courthouse. The Southern District of Georgia is one of the original thirteen courts created by the Judiciary Act of 1789 and its location on this site is of great historic significance. The building in which the court is housed was completed in 1899 and is listed on the National Register of historic places. At one time the building housed all, or essentially all, of the offices and agencies of the United States in Savannah and Chatham County, including the United States Post Office, the United States District Court, the United States Attorney's Office, Probation Office, the Office of the Clerk of the Court, the United States Bankruptcy Court, offices of our two Senators and district Congressman, General Services Administration, the Department of Labor, and others. Because of growth over the years non-court related agencies have gradually been relocated into other space in the Savannah area. In May 1993, after gradual relocation of numerous non-court related agencies from this building, the United States Attorney's Office required expansion and was relocated to leased space in a nearby building. At present the building houses a United States postal facility, three United States District Judges, two United States District Courtrooms, one United States Magistrate with a courtroom and one United States Bankruptcy Judge with a courtroom, together with the of rices of the clerks of these courts. Two visiting District Judges and one visiting Bankruptcy Judge also hear cases in the present building. The United States District Courtrooms are slightly smaller than the United States Court and Design Guide minimum requirement. The magistrate and bankruptcy courtrooms are significantly below the design standard for magistrate and bankruptcy judges. In short the present building is inadequate for even our present needs.

The Administrative Office of the United States Courts wishes to retain the current United States Courthouse building because of its historic significance and prominence in the heart of the Savannah Historic District located on one of the most visible and centrally located squares in the historic district. The desire to retain this location is shared by the City of Savannah, Chatham County, the Historic Savannah Foundation and other local historic and preservation groups and individuals.

The prospectus for this project proposes construction of a 165,000 square foot courthouse annex adjacent to the existing federal building. The annex would provide five new courtrooms - 2 district, 1 magistrate, and 2 bankruptcy - in addition to offices for the United States Marshal's Service, United States Attorneys, United States Probation Service, and the General Services Administration. This project came about as a result of the Long Range Facility Plan of the Administrative Of lice of the United States Courts and will meet the ten year requirements of the courts and court related agencies. The entire complex - including the Annex, the existing Courthouse, and the adjacent Corps of Engineers building will meet the Courts' 30 year program needs.

Because of the desire to retain the existing Courthouse and place the Annex in a location so as to permit the two buildings to operate as a single facility, and because of the sensitive nature of construction in a national historic district, considerable effort has been devoted to the planning process. Great care has been taken to receive input from the community and from historic preservation interests, to be responsive to those concerns and to produce a project which would enhance and not diminish the authenticity of the historic district. This process has resulted in obtaining the favorable consideration of all the constituent groups with concern over how a project of this magnitude could affect the quality of the historic district.

Through the efforts of the design team, an annex has been designed which will be visually similar to and compatible with the existing building. The relationship between the Annex and the present Courthouse is illustrated on the coversheet to the materials which have been provided to you. Two renderings of this building are found at pages 1 and 2 of the material. This site was selected after a review of numerous alternative sites and was determined to be the single best location for the courthouse annex. Selection of this site and construction on it will, by necessity, require the demolition of two smaller federal buildings constructed during the mid- 1 980's. A photograph of these buildings is at page 3 . A map of the area and a summary of how this particular site was chosen begins at page 4 of the materials. The justification for demolition of the two adjoining federal structures concluded as follows:

The buildings were completed in 1986 at a cost of approximately $1.8 million (not including acquisition cost of the property). The current values of these two buildings is estimated to be approximately $1.6 million. Critics of these buildings generally agree that the architecture is inappropriate for the National Historic Landmark District ('COULD"). The tiles on the exterior of the buildings have been described as unsuitable for the exterior of an important public building in the historic district of one of America's most beautiful cities. This sentiment reflects the opinion of the majority of the citizens of Savannah . . .

In addition to the programmatic benefits of selecting the annex site . . . the selection of this site will create the added benefits and savings associated with not having to purchase a new site. This is especially important in light of the fact that the other sites under consideration contain multiple parcels under different ownership; would have required extensive environmental and historical/archeological investigation; in many cases would have severely impacted, or possibly required, the demolition of existing historic structures; and would have resulted in significant expenses to relocate existing individuals or businesses. Anticipated savings resulting from not purchasing the next best site are approximately $3.2 million.

To illustrate the incompatibility of the buildings scheduled for demolition with neighboring structures on Telfair Square, you may compare page 3 with pages 10, 1 1 and 12. The full text of this discussion concerning the demolition of two of the three adjoining federal buildings is in your materials at pages 8 and 9. I believe that this decision creates a "win/win situation" in that two existing federal buildings, which are inefficient in size and layout and which are visually inappropriate for their location, can be replaced by a structure that will be visually compatible with the neighborhood surrounding Telfair Square. The building will be a credit to the United States Government, will meet the programmatic needs of the Federal Judiciary in the Savannah Division of the Southern District for the foreseeable future, and will save taxpayers' dollars in the process.

Construction of a building that achieves this most desirable result and which enjoys the approval which it has received from the Savannah Historic District Board of Review which concluded that the building meets the historic district guidelines for height and mass and visual compatibility is an accomplishment of which I am most proud. I extend credit for this to all individuals and agencies involved, including, but not limited to, the Congress which has appropriated funds for site selection and design, the Administrative Office, the General Services Administration, local elected officials, business leaders and the historic preservation community. While I recognize that achieving this consensus has not been without its costs, as for example, to adhere to the requirement that the exterior building materials be matched as nearly as possible to those of the existing building, nevertheless I am convinced that the records of the General Services Administration and the Administrative Office will amply illustrate that the project has undergone extensive review to insure that the maximum value is received for the Federal Government's investment in the continued vitality and revitalization of the Savannah Historic District, and in furtherance of the space needs of our Court.

At this time if there are any questions of a specific nature I'll be delighted to respond