For the third time, the administration of Governor Tom Corbett has shown support for the Philadelphia family courthouse being constructed with state public works dollars by agreeing that capital funds can cover furniture, fixtures and equipment.
Pennsylvania Chief Justice Ronald D. Castille, the liaison justice to the First Judicial District, said last week that the governor is going to seek approval from legislators for approximately $20 million of the $200 million courthouse capital budget construction allocation to be expended on furniture, fixtures and equipment. The family court furniture, fixtures and equipment would be one of several items in that legislative bill.
The additional approval is desired by the administration, Castille said.
While former Governor Edward G. Rendell approved the release of the $200 million in capital funds in 2010, Governor Tom Corbett, a Republican, also gave his blessing to the project even in the wake of negative publicity that the court’s former lawyer and tenant representative, Jeffrey Rotwitt, had become a co-developer of the site of the proposed facility.
A legal malpractice lawsuit filed by the FJD over Rotwitt’s allegedly undisclosed dual roles settled in November for $4 million, including $2 million from malpractice carrier Travelers Insurance and $2 million from Rotwitt’s former law firm, Obermayer Rebmann Maxwell & Hippel.
The Corbett administration also supported the addition of an extra floor to the courthouse structure, which will be located on the seventh floor and will be a shell to allow for expansion by the courts.
When asked if legislators might act negatively toward authorizing funds for the family court because of Castille’s majority opinion throwing out the 2011 legislative redistricting plan, Castille pointed out that legislators in all contested districts won, including during a presidential election won by a Democratic incumbent.
While the governor plans to submit the funding, “that has to go through the legislature first. People are so happy to see [Corbett's action], but that’s not necessarily going to come to pass,” Castille said.
In another development regarding the family court, Castille said the FJD has received $2 million in settlement funds from Travelers and that as of Thursday, it had received $500,000 from Obermayer Rebmann. Obermayer owes another $1.5 million, half of which is due this week and half of which is due a year later, Castille said.
If there is not legislative approval to use some of the capital bond funds for furniture, fixtures and equipment, the funds from the legal malpractice accord would go toward the furniture, fixtures and equipment, Castille said.
But the settlement funds would still be far short of the estimated $20 million necessary to pay for furniture, fixtures and equipment.
If there is a funding shortage, “at some period of time, the city may have to step up,” Castille said.
Majid Alsayegh, principal and senior consultant with Alta Management, who was hired by the FJD to oversee the courthouse project, estimated that $20 million is needed for furniture, fixtures and equipment, which would include about $12 million for furniture for 1,170 staff.
“In our industry, we call it systems furniture,” Alsayegh said.
One of the biggest items is cubicles, Alsayegh said.
The furniture, fixtures and equipment also includes conference room furniture, filing cabinets and wireless hubs and routers that will go on every floor to enable computerization of the building, Alsayegh said.
Court leaders were worried about how to get the money for furniture, fixtures and equipment, and if not forthcoming from the capital budget bonds, it would have had to come from the city of Philadelphia or FJD’s budget, Alsayegh said. But he said court officials are very pleased that there is promise that the funding will be state-sourced.
Project leaders are estimating that the project is going to come in at $180 million to $182 million, including the furniture, fixtures and equipment, Alsayegh said. Construction bids came in 12 percent to 15 percent below what the project organizers had estimated, which was because it was the toughest construction atmosphere in decades, Alsayegh said.
Even with the administration’s agreement to put some of the $200 million toward furniture, fixtures and equipment, computers, fax machines and copier machines would not be covered, Alsayegh said. He estimated it could cost $3 million to $4 million to cover that technological equipment.
The settlement funds then would be used toward the technological equipment, Alsayegh said.
If there are any settlement funds left over after the computer and other technological equipment is paid for, Alsayegh said he would propose that the FJD family court funds be used to outfit the empty seventh floor.
Every square inch of the building is going to be in use. “The building is very … one word is efficient; another word that would be used is tight,” Alsayegh said.
A state Department of General Services spokesman said he could not provide immediate comment Friday. The DGS is constructing the courthouse.