Robert F. Kennedy Main Justice Building

Barbara Horwitz-Bennett Washington, D.C.
August 11, 2010



The Robert F. Kennedy Main Justice Building houses the U.S. Attorney General's office, the Justice Department headquarters, and the largest historic art collection of any GSA-built facility, so its renovation had to be performed with the utmost care.

Robert F. Kennedy Main Justice Building
The building’s art collection required the services of a full-time art conservator and a special “art protection package” for subcontractor bidding.
PHOTO: BORIS FELDBLYUM PHOTOGRAPHY

Offices housing hundreds of lawyers and staff had to remain operational during the construction of a brand new $3.1 million conference center and data room, the restoration of the main library and executive suites, and the installation of a new M/E/P system. All this had to be done while maintaining the highest levels of security and dealing with hazardous materials.

BD+C Reconstruction Awards judge Walker C. Johnson, FAIA, Johnson Lasky Architects, Chicago, assessed the restoration job as “a very difficult project, well executed.”

To best preserve the building's extensive art collection, protective shields were placed around the murals, sculptures, and plaster reliefs. Temperature, humidity, and dust controls were also installed, making the collection much better equipped to stand the test of time.

Due to the highly sensitive nature of the facility itself, extra security measures were employed throughout the project. Construction personnel were classified into three tiers and were permitted access to specific building areas based on these three levels of security clearance.

An extensive asbestos abatement effort was conducted, along with the removal of lead paint and careful handling of mercury vapor lamps containing PCBs. The construction manager, Gilbane Building Company, established a stop-work rule that brought construction to a halt the moment any hazardous material was uncovered.

Conservation efforts throughout the construction process ultimately returned close to $1 million to the GSA's purse.

For instance, instead of completely demolishing the existing courtyard plaza and garage structures, the design consultants determined that it was possible to renovate these features, thereby utilizing 95% of existing building materials. The courtyard's cobblestone blocks were removed, cleaned, refurbished, and reinstalled. The foundation of the courtyard's original fountain was preserved, while its pipes and pumps were replaced. And only the concrete with questionable integrity around the facility's garage beams was removed and repaired, rather than replacing all the concrete.

As for the facility's plaza deck, the Building Team tested the concrete structure's integrity to determine which sections could be repaired instead of being entirely rebuilt. Consequently, 14,520 tons of waste material were diverted from landfill.

The original foundation and structure of the building's entrance was preserved, saving another 110 tons of waste materials and decreasing the risk of penetrating a sensitive waterproofing membrane system.

Gilbane scored additional savings by utilizing a mechanism called early buyout. Taking advantage of the purchasing power of the entire four-phase construction job, Gilbane was able to secure prices early on in the project that otherwise would have been spent covering the escalating costs of building materials.

In sum, the project came in $4.2 million under budget, enabling the GSA to pursue additional work, including restoration and re-pointing of the limestone exterior, roof repair and replacement, ornate painting and plaster restoration, additional hazardous materials abatement, and fire code upgrades.