Public to weigh in on courthouse annex design

(Source: “Public to weigh in on courthouse annex design,” Iowa City Press-Citizen, 1:26 p.m. CDT May 7, 2014, Mitchell Schmidt)

Johnson County officials have decided to give the public a conceptual look at a proposed courthouse annex before November ballots are cast.

Johnson County elected officials and architects with Iowa City’s Neumann Monson Architects and Wisconsin-based Venture Architects on Wednesday further fleshed out plans for a November bond referendum vote on a proposed $30 million annex to the Johnson County Courthouse that would add six courtrooms totaling about 500 additional seats, expanded storage and a more secure entrance.

While discussions last month alluded to the board only planning to release the project floorplan to the public before votes are cast, officials have now decided to not only engage the public for design options, but also provide voters with a few potential sketches before the Nov. 4 election.

“I actually agree with the concept that we would have (the floorplan designs) and this would be the plan, however, I think we need to plan how we’ll engage the public with the outside look,” Supervisor Janelle Rettig said. “I’d like to see us lay out a plan because I don’t think we can go to the voters without design sketches. I think we would just be tarred and feathered.”

Supervisors hope to vote to pass bond referendum language later this month that would place the item on the November ballot, engage the public in one or more open meetings to collect ideas and then present a few proposed design sketches by September.

That said, officials still anticipate that, no matter the design, it will not be mutually supported, as with the glass design of last year’s proposed justice center.

Johnson County voters voted down a proposed justice center — which aimed to address jail crowding and age and accessibility concerns at the county courthouse — twice in a six-month span in 2012 and 2013. Both times, supporting votes fell short of the 60 percent needed for a bond referendum.

“This town is very particular about their architecture, and you either love them or you hate them, there’s no middle ground,” Rettig said. “If you think they’re going to have one mind, you’re full of it.”

Courthouse annex plan Level 1 (Photo: Iowa City Press-Citizen , Submitted Photo )
Johnson County Attorney Janet Lyness said the proposed courthouse annex will be a large improvement over current facilities at the historic county courthouse, adding that collecting public input will only benefit the process.

“I love the idea of trying to get public input and help them have a say,” Lyness said.

The proposed annex — which would measure 282 feet by 102 feet and contain two floors of courthouse space, clerk of court offices, judge chambers and conference rooms and a basement floor for storage and mechanical equipment — would sit south of the existing courthouse. If approved, Iowa City would have to vacate Harrison Street, which would be overlapped by the annex, and the county would pay for a new entrance to the nearby General Services Administration parking lot.

Not attached to the upcoming bond referendum is planned renovations to the Johnson County Jail, which could begin later this fall.

Courthouse annex plan Level 2 (Photo: Submitted Photo )
County officials plan to transfer the jail’s approximately 60 inmates to other facilities to allow installation of a new control center and updates to locks and doors. That project is estimated to cost about $1.2 million.

In January, the board decided to pursue bond referendums for a courthouse annex and a roughly $24 million jail annex that would add up to 100 beds to the jail.

However, about one month later, the board decided to nix immediate plans for a jail annex in favor of pursuing just the courthouse annex.

The majority of county supervisors still think a jail expansion will be necessary in the near future.

Reach Mitchell Schmidt at or at 887-5402.



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