The windows were the big job - 1,200 in all. They are bomb-resistant, steel-framed panes on the lower levels, historically accurate wood frames higher up. New insulation, boilers, LED lighting, and revolving doors were also put to bid.
Enough job-starved builders offered to do the work at thin margins that the General Services Administration says it was able to bring it in at $2 million under the original $30.8 million budget, enabling the government to add optional projects like the 24,000-square-foot field of water-sucking sedum plants on the lower roof that surrounds the building's central tower.
"This is part of Obama's energy initiative," said GSA building manager Tom Rufo. The green roof, for example, "has a lot of benefits: It reduces storm-water runoff - it takes two days for rainwater to percolate through."
"And we get better insulation," said Bill Pollard, GSA operations manager. Unlike the old built-up rubber roofing, the sedum needs to be weeded every few months. Other local federal buildings are adding green roofs as they are updated, GSA project manager Brian Muller said.
Up to 260 workers swarmed the site for 21/2 years. Hundreds more built windows off-site. The general contractor was Grunley Construction Co. of suburban Washington. The architect and designer was TransSystems Corp., a government contractor from Kansas City. Philadelphia's own Dan Lepore & Sons was paid $4.3 million to point the brick and replace window sashes and lead paint, working alongside minority and other contractors. Tabor Acoustical Inc., of Williamstown, built hundreds of new wooden windows.
For a bird's-eye view, Pollard, Muller, and Rufo walked me up three flights of steel stairs to the tower's top chamber, modeled on the ancient Greek lighthouse at Rhodes.
The narrow balcony outside gives terrific views of today's less stinking and more residential waterfront to the east, and west to the city's high rises.
If this were one of Philadelphia's aging civilian offices, a developer would have borrowed a few million to refit this perch as a penthouse by now. But this remains a working building, under tight security.
Maybe the most impressive part of the job - unlike an earlier handicapped-access and energy upgrade in the early 1990s, when agencies moved out - is that this time contractors worked with the building fully occupied, by armed federal agents and other specialists who weren't afraid to make detailed suggestions, Rufo said.
"We estimate this will last more than 50 years," Pollard said.
Then maybe another crisis program will bring it up to date.
Contact Joseph N. DiStefano at 215-854-5914 or JoeD@phillynews.com.