ALBUQUERQUE, N.M.—An effort to repair a water leak in an underground parking garage at the federal courthouse in downtown Albuquerque has turned into a $3.4 million project.

The Albuquerque Journal reports (http://bit.ly/11yvi4F) that judges are wondering whether the project has gone over the top, while the government agency that owns the building says the project showcases innovation in sustainability.

Water leaked into the underground garage when the lawn at the courthouse was watered or a fountain was turned on.

Crews had to be brought in on a regular basis to vacuum out the standing water in the garage. Judges were concerned that the water would damage the integrity of the underground garage structure and require expensive repairs.

The judges asked the General Service Administration, the agency that owns the building, only to fix the leakage into the garage and look at reducing water use on the lawn. They weren't consulted and were not in favor of a project of this magnitude and cost. The judges cringed at the project's $3.4 million costs.

U.S. District Judge William Johnson said the work looks first rate and the project may well end up adding to the beauty of the courthouse, but the judges wonder whether, during a time of threatened government budget cuts and potential furloughs for court employees, the entire project hasn't gone more than a bit over the top.

"Whether this GSA landscape project is a wise and efficient use of taxpayer dollars is an important public issue and one certainly subject to debate," Johnson said.


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The General Services Administration's plan for redoing the courthouse included landscaping, putting up solar panels and installing giant underground cisterns to capture rain water from the roof and grounds to irrigate new plants and trees.

"It is a wonderful project," GSA spokeswoman Tina Jaegerman said. "This is one of those projects that they're already talking about awards for design."

The 2009 federal stimulus package meant there was money available for the project. A 2007 federal energy law ordered that federal buildings be made environmentally sustainable. An executive order signed by President Obama in 2009 increased the pace of the 2007 law.

So in fixing one leaky underground garage, the GSA could show it was following the president's orders and Congress' orders and didn't have to ask for extra money.

"The project presented a unique situation at a unique time," Jaegerman said.

Jaegerman said one of GSA's major goals is to reduce waste in federal buildings.

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Information from: Albuquerque Journal, http://www.abqjournal.com