NASHVILLE - U.S. Sen. Lamar Alexander, R-Tennessee, announced Monday that a bill approved by the Senate Appropriations Committee includes $189.1 million to construct a new federal courthouse to replace the Joel W. Solomon Federal Building and U.S. Courthouse in Chattanooga.
Alexander, a senior member of the Senate Appropriations Committee, said in a statement the bill "at my request" provides funding "to build a badly needed new courthouse in the largest and busiest judicial district in Tennessee."
Noting the existing courthouse was built 87 years ago, Alexander said "construction of a new courthouse is the only solution to address the significant operation, space, and security deficiencies that exist at the current federal courthouse in Chattanooga."
Alexander also said the Judicial Conference of the United States has "designated Chattanooga as a courthouse construction priority, and I am glad that the need for this new facility has been recognized by the committee."
Funding depends on the legislation ultimately winning approval in both the Senate and the House. Last year, Alexander made a similar announcement about the effort gaining ground in the Senate but it ultimately did not pass.
Alexander's office said the fiscal year 2021 Financial Services and General Government Appropriations bill is "consistent with the spending limits included in the Bipartisan Budget Act of 2019 approved by Congress, and signed by President Trump, in August 2019."
The replacement project has been through what Alexander called a "rigorous justification and prioritization process for 21 years."
U.S. Rep. Chuck Fleischmann, R-Tennessee, whose district includes Chattanooga, sits on the House Appropriations Committee.
"I fully support Senator Lamar Alexander's request for funding for a new federal courthouse in Chattanooga. I have always supported this funding in the House and I will continue to fight for this important funding for our community. I am glad that Senator Alexander has stood with us in this fight to secure funding for Chattanooga's courthouse."
The five-story, white marble-clad courthouse was built in the 1930s and located downtown on Georgia Avenue, across from Miller Park. It covers half a city block. It is seen as an example of the "Art Moderne" style often used for government buildings in the 1930s.
Funding is being appropriated "in one lump [sum] to pay for the entire project," added Alexander, who leaves office in January after an 18-year career in the Senate. Providing the money up front is "speeding up construction and saving taxpayers money," the senator added.
In 2017, the Times Free Press reported the cost of a new federal courthouse for Chattanooga was estimated at $157.3 million. But the Chattanooga project at that time was behind three other courthouse projects already locked in to receive money when available.
Lee Davis, a local attorney, called the federal courthouse "a wonderful building, but it's an outdated courthouse and truly since the mid-90s federal judges and others have commented about the need for this. It's been a perennial 'we're almost on the list' request, but we've never been on it."
Getting funding for a replacement would be "welcome news," Davis added. "We have in-custody inmates that have to take elevators, and the security for the staff, the judges, the attorneys is way behind the times."
The location of a new courthouse has not been identified.
Contact Andy Sher at email@example.com or 615-255-0550. Follow on Twitter @AndySher1.