Cord Moving and Storage to the Rescue

Cord Moving and Storage to the Rescue in ST. LOUIS • An overnight pipe breach soaked the towering Thomas F. Eagleton U.S. Courthouse downtown, creating a 17-story waterfall inside the building and leaving half a dozen courtrooms and various offices unusable for perhaps six months, officials said Wednesday.

It was too early for anyone to make an educated dollar estimate of what the court described in a written statement as “major water damage.”

The severity was plain to see, with yellowish-tan water dripping onto floors, desks, cushioned seats and plastic sheeting. Saturated acoustical ceiling panels became waterlogged and dropped two stories to the floors of courtrooms. Carpets buckled, paint blistered and slumped downward, and wood veneer peeled.

The fate of recently upgraded communications and electronic equipment in some courtrooms was not yet determined.

One deputy clerk called it a “disaster” and guessed that repair costs might run into millions of dollars.

When it was dedicated in 2000, the 1 million-square-foot building was the biggest federal courthouse in the nation, rising 567 feet with its 29 oversized stories. It houses the district court for eastern Missouri, offices for some federal agencies and, at the top above the flood, the 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.

Chief U.S. District Judge Catherine Perry stressed, “The court is open for business, and all cases will go forward as originally scheduled.”

“Half of our building is fine,” she said in a brief telephone interview, moments after returning from a hearing that had to be moved from her flooded courtroom.

Officials said judges will share courtrooms until repairs are made. Perry noted, “It’s going to be confusing for a while.”

The leak began with a burst water pipe in or near a holding cell on the south side of the building’s 17th floor late Tuesday night, officials said. Water then flooded into hallways, offices and a courtroom, and began trickling down throughout the south side of the building.

When Kathy Schroeder, judicial assistant to U.S. Magistrate Judge Terry Adelman, arrived on the 15th floor at 7 a.m., she could smell the dampness before she spotted any water.

Then she and a contractor looked into the courtroom and a back hall, behind the judge’s bench. “I’m not exaggerating, it looked like it was raining in there,” she said.

Water dripped from spots all over the ceiling, and ran down the walls.

Schroeder said Jim Woodward, clerk of the U.S. District Court, quickly organized staff to rescue furniture, electronics and other equipment, moving some of it to the dry north side of the building.

Adelman said he stopped by his offices about 9 p.m. Tuesday after leaving the Cardinals game and noticed nothing amiss. When he returned at 8:30 a.m. Wednesday, he said the dripping in his soaked courtroom was still ‘spotty.” Three hearings scheduled for 10 a.m. were moved across to the north courtroom normally occupied by another judge, and started only five to 10 minutes late, he said.

Some employees had to wade through standing water to get to their offices.

Water was still gradually draining out of the upper floors more than 10 hours after the leak was discovered by a General Services Administration worker at 5:15 a.m.

The flooded areas are expected to be out of commission for six months, officials said.

The GSA, the federal government’s landlord, moved quickly to begin the cleanup aided by Cord Moving and Storage led by Charlie Wormek who was quick to respond when the call came in to Cord’s Offices. By midmorning, the building, at 111 South 10th Street, was ringed by the trucks and vans of contractors who specialize in fire and flood cleanup.

Industrial fans and dehumidifiers were brought in by the pallet-load, and droned away as wet/dry vacuums whined.

GSA spokeswoman Angela Brees said that no damage estimate was immediately available and that the agency was trying to get an estimator out yet this week. Brees said the GSA would cover the cost of renovations and damage to “real property,” but the court system would be responsible for personal property.

Brees said the burst pipe was inaccessible to any prisoners who may have been in the holding cells. Workers are researching what went wrong.

The structure took nearly a decade to build, delayed by soil contamination and various property and construction disputes that spawned their own kind of flood — of suits and countersuits.

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