Zorinsky Federal Building in Omaha gets major security upgrade

After years of delays and increased construction costs, some tenants of the Zorinsky Federal Building should move in this month.

The total cost of the renovation work at the Edward Zorinsky Federal Building has reached $58.7 million, about $18 million more than estimated in 2001, according to Michael Brincks, deputy regional administrator of the federal General Services Administration.

The restoration originally was slated to be complete in January 2004, so the project is four years behind schedule.

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers will occupy six floors of the nine-story, 432,000-square- foot building at 17th Street and Capitol Avenue.

Other tenants will include the Department of Housing and Urban Development, the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the Internal Revenue Service. HUD is expected to settle into the Zorinsky Building in mid-January, the Corps of Engineers will move in during March and April and the USDA and IRS will occupy their offices in September.

The Zorinsky Building will house 1,200 federal employees and contain such amenities as a cafe, child care facility and health unit where employees can schedule complete medical exams with a full-time nursing staff.

Brincks said the delays have mostly been because of post-9/11 security requirements, including an additional $10 million for reinforced walls for blast mitigation, protective glass and other security measures.

"Every construction project has major and minor delays and issues that pop up," said Brincks, who is based in Kansas City, Mo. "Our major delay was the post-9/11 security upgrades that had to be made. The main cause of the cost overruns is 9/11-- it's just a fact.";ah>

Another reason the project ran over budget and behind schedule, he said, was the hidden structural defects. Some of the interior defects included uneven floor slabs and vertical columns that were not uniform. Brincks said the building renovation plans had to be redesigned and new bids gathered on materials and labor before construction. The alterations in the design account for approximately $4 million of the additional expenditures, he said.

Other delays and expenditures were caused by changes the Corps of Engineers made to its work space, at a cost of about $2.7 million, as well as the extended duration of the general overhead costs, including extended contracts and utility expenses.

The GSA still supports its choice to renovate instead of rebuild the Zorinsky Building. "The GSA absolutely stands behind the decision to renovate," Brincks said. "Hindsight is 20/20. Our decision at the time was the right decision. We don't regret it because it was the best decision at the time. That building will be there 50 to 75 years, and it will be proven to be the right decision."

The building was widely known in Omaha for its light blue panels. In October 2002, the regional administrator for the GSA at the time, Brad Scott, said Omahans would be "astounded by how we're going to make a silk purse out of a sow's ear."

The construction contract was not awarded for close to two years. The completion date was moved to 2005, then 2006, then early summer of 2007.

The bulk of the Corps of Engineers staff is currently housed in federal office space on South 15th Street. According to Brincks, the building the corps is now occupying doesn't meet its needs because of the age, space and floor plans.

The other agencies are located in leased space. "In the long term, it is less expensive to own instead of lease. It makes sense to consolidate into one federally owned building," Brincks said.

After all the occupants have moved in, about 15,000 square feet of space will be vacant. Brincks said this will provide some flexibility for the agencies or allow the GSA to lease to a private entity, depending on future needs.

The Zorinsky Building is named after Ed Zorinsky, a former Omaha mayor and U.S. senator from Nebraska. Zorinsky died in March 1987.