Tour Raises More Questions About Cordell Hull Demolition

Tour Raises More Questions About Cordell Hull Demolition

By Phil Williams. CREATED Jul 20, 2013

NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- If the Haslam administration hoped to convince lawmakers that a historic state office building should be demolished, they may have failed.

Tuesday, a group of Nashville legislators and historic preservationists toured the 59-year-old Cordell Hull Building.

And lawmakers saw what our NewsChannel 5 investigation first revealed -- namely, that Cordell Hull's water problems may have been exaggerated to convince lawmakers to approve money to destroy the building.

General Services official Peter Heimbach led the delegation on a tour of the Cordell Hull, a building with its marbled hallways that's been determined to be eligible for listing on the National Register of Historic Places.

"The historical marble that's in here, you can't get that anymore," said Rep. Sherry Jones, D-Nashville. "That's Tennessee marble. That's a big deal."

It's a building that General Services Commissioner Steve Cates told lawmakers back in February wasn't worth saving.

"That is a very unique situation in that it is leaking," Cates testified.

"There's not $40 million available to spend to get it where it doesn't leak, where there's not mold, where there's not mildew. I think that's the main issue."

Yet, when Heimbach asked a state employee to help point out all the water problems, there was confusion about what to show.

"The only ones that I'm aware of is this here," the employee said.

"Currently," Heimbach interjected.

"Every once in a while," the employee replied. "It's dry, it's completely dry."

"Right now," Heimbach insisted.

"Yeah," the employee acknowledged.

Rep. Gary Odom, D-Nashville, had expected the worst after what he heard from Cates.

"I was sitting there in that hearing and thinking that the way he was describing it it was like a river was constantly running under the building," Odom said.

What lawmakers saw instead was a carpet stain in a room filled with computer equipment -- a problem that Heimbach blamed on a leaky foundation.

"Does water get in here?" Odom asked.

"It does if it's a bad enough rain," Heimbach answered. "It hasn't recently because we haven't had real bad rains."

In fact, NewsChannel 5 Investigates obtained the consultant's report and discovered that the cost of waterproofing the foundation was a $2.8 million problem -- not a $40 million problem.

"I think the numbers that were presented that day do not match up with what we have available now," Odom said.

And when Heimbach tried to say demolishing the Cordell Hull comes down to a simple business decision, he was quickly challenged by an employee of the Tennessee Historical Commission.

"There's really no difference in what the government's needs are versus the private sector's needs," Heimbach said.

"I will argue that point," interjected Joe Garrison, a historic preservation specialist. "There's a fair difference. The needs of government to project that image always have been, always will be different from the private sector's need to do that."

In the end, the General Services official said he couldn't speak to what his boss had told lawmakers about water being the "main issue."

Peter Heimbach admitted that water is -- in his words -- "not an overwhelming piece of the puzzle."

The main issues, he said, are the building's design and general maintenance issues.

Historic preservationists said they've been told by General Services that there is no set timetable right now.

But just last week, the State Building Commission's executive committee approved the selection of architects who will oversee the demolition process.

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Phil Williams

Phil Williams

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Phil Williams is chief investigative reporter for NewsChannel 5's nationally award-winning investigative team. His investigations have earned him journalism's highest honors.