New Miami-Dade Courthouse falling father behind
Construction of Miami-Dade’s new courthouse is further behind schedule and has grown costlier due to several unforeseen snags, though by how much is being debated by the county and the development group erecting the building.
The new civil and probate courthouse, which is to rise on Flagler Street beside the 93-year-old building it’s replacing, was originally set to open in January 2024. Miami-Dade and design-build and management team Plenary Justice Miami later agreed to move that deadline back three months to account for obstacles not included in the site plans.
Plenary Justice now says the courthouse won’t be ready for occupation until Aug. 14, 2024. The group has asked Miami-Dade for a second schedule extension, a new report from the group shows.
Frank Suarez of Miami-Dade Internal Services, the county’s project manager, told Miami Today that he and staff are “doing our own pushback” on Plenary Justice’s latest extension request by pointing to advancements in the project and calling for time to be made up in later development stages.
Miami-Dade has also enlisted engineering firm AECOM, a frequent consultant to the county, to examine Plenary Justice’s delay claims and parse through additional costs the development team expects.
“I don’t think all the delays are legitimate,” Mr. Suarez said. “There are things that can be cut back. We’re evaluating their schedule. We don’t agree with that August date.”
While there is discord between Miami-Dade and Plenary Justice on how much time it will take to fix things, both parties concur on what the problems are.
An on-site conduit duct bank controlled by FPL that also services the nearby Metrorail station needs to be relocated. Doing so required that FPL attain permits from county and city departments.
“Plus, getting the vendors who are going to do the work – pricing it out, all that stuff – is a lengthy process,” Mr. Suarez said, adding that the work should be done “by the end of February, early part of March.”
In total, the cost came out to about $1 million, split evenly between FPL and the county, Plenary Justice and Miami-Dade said.
The development team also had to relocate an access manhole to underground utilities the county’s information technology department uses for the existing courthouse, which it will still use for the new one.
Doing so cost Miami-Dade $200,000, Mr. Suarez said.
Shortly after assuming control of the land last year, Plenary Justice found a 5G utility pole on the southeast corner of the courthouse footprint. Mike Krissel of AT&T said at the time that it could “conservatively [take] 8 to 9 months” for his company to move the pole offsite, “assuming everything aligns perfectly.”
As with the FPL work, Mr. Suarez said, the 5G pole is likely to be elsewhere by early March.
Other utilities on or around the parcel similarly need to be relocated, including old Crown Castle fiber lines and conduits.
Plenary Justice personnel wrote that Crown Castle in October 2020 received a permit to move its utilities, a job the development team said would take more than six months to complete “based on Crown Castle’s schedule duration.”
A water-cooling line needs to be moved as well. The permit required to do that has been slow because it must go through the City of Miami and adhere to water-and-sewer-related covenants.
“The back-and-forth has taken a little longer than anticipated,” Mr. Suarez said. “That permit is still not in place. It’s holding us up a bit.”
An old sewer line on the property is also in poor condition and could need refurbishment.
“It’s not in very good shape – the lines are made out of clay,” he said. “We need to make sure it’ll be serviceable for the future of this building.”
Design drawings for the 23-story courthouse are now 65% finished, though the main aspects of the project are already agreed upon. The 640,000-square-foot building is to have 46 courtrooms with shell space for an additional four, parking for 59 vehicles and offices for court administrative and clerk personnel.
The courthouse project is the first public-private social infrastructure project in Miami-Dade.
Plenary Justice – comprised of equity investor and asset manager Plenary Group, architects Hellmuth Obata and Kassabaum Inc., design-builder Tutor Perini Corp. and operations and maintenance partner Johnson Controls Inc. – closed on the courthouse construction deal with the county Jan. 24, 2020, according to Dan Chatlos, division director for Miami-Dade Real Estate Development.
Under the terms of the agreement, Plenary Justice is to spend $267 million in advance on construction costs. Over 30 years, the county expects to pay Plenary Justice $852.2 million, beginning with a first-year payment of $25.4 million once construction ends.
Plenary Justice will be responsible for the courthouse’s operations and maintenance for three decades, including cleaning, refurbishment and utility upkeep. If the group fails to meet agreed-upon standards over that time, the county can cut its yearly payments.
Miami-Dade most recently submitted its comments on the designs Plenary Justice submitted so far. Once the team incorporates the county’s requested changes, tentatively by March 17, the design work should reach 95% completion.
“Then we would review it again,” Mr. Suarez said. “It takes about 30 days to provide them with comments. Then we meet again to review the comments that we made. They fix those, and it’ll be submitted to the building department for a permit.”
To speed things along, Plenary Justice has applied for a permit so that while the designs are being finished, the group can begin on the building’s foundation. That work, which involves digging into the ground below and installing the roots of the building, will take more than six months.
Excavation of the basement, including removal of contaminated soil there, was to have begun Dec. 20 and run to April 7, 2021, Plenary Justice previously estimated.
“That has not started,” Mr. Suarez said. “The contractor [has] come up with another methodology of treating the soil. That permit’s not available yet, but it’s within days or weeks of getting approved [by the county].”
Mike Schutt, a vice president for Plenary Group, declined requests for comment.