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Where The City Meets The Sea,” How The Moakley Courthouse Is Addressing Climate Change.

June 14, 2022

climate federal properties with a plug


The John Joseph Moakley U.S. Courthouse is a Boston landmark, located on the harbor with a surrounding landscape that is coined “where the city meets the sea.” It is a place where more space is dedicated to public use than any other Federal Courthouse in the nation. A property that hugs the downtown waterfront with brilliant panoramic views.

It is also a place where the U.S. District Court, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the First Circuit, and GSA have been discussing and planning for the future risk factors of climate change for years, forging a partnership and collaborating with the city of Boston so that “The Moakley” will be prepared.

moakley courthouse with the boston harbor in front

The GSA Public Buildings Service facilities team considers climate in every project it plans for at the Moakley Courthouse. This practice proved helpful when the King Tide of 2018 arrived at the Boston waterfront. A King Tide is categorized as the highest predicted high tide of the year at a coastal location. Although no water has ever reached the facility, events such as this have forced the property team to always be ready and to stay proactive.

GSA Property Manager, Jerry Walsh, says that preparing for any type of weather scenario is simply a part of his day, stating, “We stay prepared, even having gel sandbags on site to deploy if a high tide warning comes in. We’re lucky as the tenants take great pride in the building integrity and work alongside us to proactively plan.”

The city of Boston is one of the top U.S. cities at risk for sea level rise. Due to climate change, the incidence of high tides and storm events will only become more pronounced as time passes and GSA is taking steps now to address future climate risks.

water on the walkway behind the moakley

GSA recently completed a project for an extra field investigation at the courthouse. This effort was conceptualized as a follow on to a flood mitigation study that was prepared for the U.S. Courts in 2019. That study provided a broad overview of possible projects that could be implemented to prevent the effects of flooding and to protect vital building systems and equipment in the basement. The current field investigation dives deeper into tangible possibilities that take into account the site dimensions, structural components, and underground utilities. The final results will help shape the design phase of the project.

The project team is currently completing design options for the installation of watertight doors as well as considering alteration options to landscape and flood barriers as seen below:

doors and a barrier

The contractor has provided their draft field investigation to summarize their findings. GSA and tenants of the Moakley Federal Courthouse are currently reviewing and providing feedback as the region has set aside funds this fiscal year for the potential EFI enhancements. The upcoming design stage of the project will delve further into possible options and will continue into early 2022.

Explore the GSA Climate Change Risk Management Plan and learn more about how GSA is addressing climate change among it’s portfolio

Last Reviewed: 2022-06-14