Courthouse post office may not be dead letter
The post office at Pioneer Courthouse may be gone,Êbut the brouhaha is far from over.
Four months after the post office in Portland's historic 127-year-old courthouse was evicted, postal officials still are looking for a substitute downtown site Ñ one they hope will be only temporary.
That's because postal officials would like the post office to return to the place where it's been a heavily used fixture since the stately stone building opened during President U.S. Grant's administration. The Pioneer Courthouse post office was the second-oldest post office west of the Mississippi River.
But a spokesman for the federal General Services Administration, which is overseeing a planned two-year-long remodeling and renovation project of the now-vacant courthouse, said that's not likely to happen.
'At this point, there simply isn't any room for them to return,' said Peter Gray, who works at the GSA's regional office in Auburn, Wash.
After the renovations, the entire building will be required by its occupants: four 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals judges and their staff members, Gray said. 'The GSA does not have plans for the post office to return to the courthouse at the end of the project.'
Rep. Earl Blumenauer, D-Ore., is still intent, however, on derailing the GSA's plans to alter the courthouse to add parking in its basement, aide Tom Markgraf said.
Blumenauer wants the post office to return to the courthouse, which is listed on the National Register of Historic Places, when work is completed. He also takes particular exception to the GSA's plan to add driveway ramps and a doorway in the north side of the foundation, so that judges will be able to park in the basement.
Blumenauer, who worked with Sen. Gordon Smith, R-Ore., to get Congress to appropriate $16.6 million to pay for historic renovation and a seismic refit of the courthouse, contends that the GSA parking proposal breaches congressional intent for the historic building.
A July 3 GSA news release said that historic preservation groups had signed off on the project. Bids are to be opened July 31, with the work intended to start in September. The release also said that the post office had leased replacement space in the old Gus Solomon Courthouse building.
But Portland postal service spokesman Ron Anderson said no lease has been signed, although the agency is looking at several sites.
The March 15 closure of the post office generated a storm of complaints, from people who liked the downtown location and its proximity to bus and light rail service, and also from people who didn't want to see such a substantial change in the use of the courthouse.
Meanwhile, Blumenauer aide Markgraf said, 'This thing's not over, despite what the GSA says.'
Testifying Wednesday before the Subcommittee on Economic Development, Public Buildings and Emergency Management, Blumenauer said, 'This project is wrong.'
Although the GSA had cited security needs in justifying the parking garage, Blumenauer said, the judges have secure parking half a block away.
'Judges have been walking to this courthouse for more than a century, and according to federal marshals, there has never been an incident,' Blumenauer said.
According to Markgraf, that prompted Rep. Eleanor Holmes Norton, D-D.C., to remark that she'd watched Associate Justice Antonin Scalia park his car that morning and walk two blocks to the U.S. Supreme Court.
Norton asked, 'Why do appeals judges in Portland think they need their own parking lot?'
But Jon Kvistad, GSA's regional administrator, said that 'especially after Sept. 11 there has been a heightened awareness by the U.S. courts of the security deficiencies at Pioneer Courthouse.'
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