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Robert A. Young Federal Building in St. Louis.

Robert A. Young Federal Building in St. Louis. Photo courtesy General Services Administration.

WASHINGTON • Despite cutbacks in government spending, the Obama administration is taking seriously the earthquake threats in the region and proposing to spend $70.2 million for renovation of the Robert A. Young Federal Building in St. Louis. 

The scope of that proposal is exceeded by just one other project on the General Services Administration planning list, the Herbert Hoover Building in Washington, home to the Department of Commerce.

The new White House budget plan released today also proposes to spend $27 million for improvements at the Prevedel Federal Building in Overland in order to provide for the lease of more than 200,000 square feet of vacant space.

The work at the Robert A. Young building would include what the GSA is calling a "full structural seismic retrofit" in order to address "seismic deficiencies."

The 20-story structure was built in 1931 to serve as a warehouse for the Terminal Railroad Association. It was acquired by the U.S. Army ten years later and became property of the GSA in 1961.

In 1988, it was renamed for a former member of Congress known for his attention to public works projects.

Budget documents justifying the project observe that the building is situated within 150 miles of both the Wabash Valley and the New Madrid seismic zones.

The documents assert that based on government studies and an upsurge in seismic activity in the region, "it is critical for GSA to fund the seismic renovations at this time to provide shelter (and) a safer exit from the building following a seismic event."

"Structural failure would not only cause catastrophic loss of life for those in and around the building, but it would impede the ability of first responders in the central  business district to carry out their mission in the event of disaster."

Retrofitting older federal buildings has a been a priority for about a decade. The Robert A. Young building poses extra challenges because of its age, size and an L-shaped structure that leaves it more vulnerable to seismic stress.

John Topi, a GSA engineer, said his agency wants to construct new pilings and "sheer walls" connected to columns.

"The intent of the project is to add stiffness to the building," he said.

The reconstruction could begin early in the new fiscal year starting in October.

Jason Klumb, regional administrator for the GSA, said in an interview that despite the urgent need of repairs, no other money would be available in his agency's budget for the improvements and that the project would not go forward without congressional approval.

Work at the Prevedel Federal Building is a matter of efficient use of space rather than a threat to public safety.

The building is nearly two-thirds vacant as a result of the U.S. Army Personnel Center and the National Archives and Records Administration moving. GSA says that the renovations would enable the Veterans Benefits Administration to consolidate its operations at Prevedel.

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