Federal Building Upgrade

Posted July 19, 2009, at 6:53 p.m.

Is renovating the Margaret Chase Federal Building Bangor’s top priority? Maybe not, but saying the $53 million allocated to the project would be better spent on roads or a new civic center displays a misunderstanding of how the government works.

This is not to say that renovating the federal building should cost $53 million, but since that money can’t now be directed to other projects, ensuring the city ends up with a more energy-efficient and functional building that won’t need more expensive updates for decades is a good outcome.

The General Services Administration — the agency that oversees federal facilities around the country — has long wanted to renovate the Bangor federal building, which was built in 1966. The building, which houses 15 federal agencies, was approved for nearly $18 million worth of renovations in 2005. But after an architect was hired to examine the building, GSA determined more work was needed. It came up with $32 million in needed upgrades, which it proposed to do in two phases.

Then came the federal stimulus bill, which included $6 billion for work on federal buildings, courthouses and ports of entry around the country. The bulk of that money — $4.5 billion — is to make existing buildings more energy-efficient.

In Bangor, the agency proposes to spend $32 million on such upgrades, including a new heating and cooling system, upgraded electrical systems and new energy-efficient windows. This will reduce the annual operating costs of the 166,000-square-foot building.

Are these savings, which haven’t been quantified, worth the $53 million expense? That is debatable, but Bangor’s project must be considered within the GSA process. If the agency decided to build a new building, which it said would cost about $76 million based on the construction of the most recent new federal building in San Francisco — a completely different market from Bangor where a new county courthouse was built for $38 million — the project would have returned to the bottom of the list. It likely wouldn’t have been built for at least 10 years.

It is not the most satisfactory explanation, but funding for work on federal buildings was going to be handed out to many states.

Bangor’s building, because it needs improvements, was included in the list. If the work isn’t done here, the money will go to another state where construction workers, electricians and others will be put to work.

Meanwhile, state and local lawmakers should work with the congressional delegation to see if federal funding is available for some of the city’s other priorities, such as a new civic center.

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