The subject of a structure separate and unconnected to the courthouse is an option that was raised, thoroughly researched and discussed by the Criminal Justice Coordinating Commission during the 10 to 15 years that various alternatives and solutions to the serious security, safety and space issues facing the courthouse and jail were reviewed. After analyzing that option as well as many other options, the current concept was felt to be the best overall solution.
To construct a separate structure, you would have to find a location for it. Land inside Iowa City would be very expensive and would add a lot of additional costs to the project. Issues related to land located outside Iowa City limits involve infrastructure such as road improvements, sidewalks, controlled intersections, extending public transportation, providing parking, sewer, water and utility services, etc., all of which would add substantial cost to the project.
The structure itself would have to be much larger because you wouldn’t be utilizing the space in the courthouse for less congested purposes such as Johnson County Attorney office, court rooms for non-jury civil and criminal trials, etc. By utilizing the space in the courthouse for matters involving less congested services, the overall size of the new structure can be small in scope and less expensive.
The University of Iowa, when previously approached, showed no interest in wanting the current historic Courthouse or the expense involved in owning and operating it. Utilizing close proximity and connection to the historic Courthouse allows continued cost of owning and operating the Courthouse to be budgeted and paid in conjunction with continuing county services. It also provides the possibility of utilizing more efficient cooling and heating systems from the new structure to cool and heat the Courthouse.
The location of the new structure near and attached to the courthouse allows the Justice Center to take advantage of the close proximity of the many services that are utilized in connection with both the jail and courthouse, including but not limited to the Public Defender’s Office, personnel in the Health and Human Services building which are utilized for mental health assessments and assistance to people in jail who suffer from mental challenges, Department of Human Services who appear in all Child in Need of Assistance cases and Termination of Parental Rights cases, MECCA which provides valuation assistance to persons with substance abuse problems, juvenile probation officers for juvenile court proceedings which take place at the courthouse, etc. The County has been grouping its services together over time and the placement of a county justice center in close proximity thereto would be a much better continuation of that plan than to begin scattering buildings in various locations and loosing the benefit of combining and coordinating the efficiency in services.
When a single structure separate from the courthouse was studied and various locations analyzed, the price tag in 2007 for such a building ran between $66,000,000 and $72,000,000.
The current Justice Center is being proposed for a price of $46,200,000, $43,500,000 of which is being requested for bonding purposes.
After years of study, many suggestions have been raised, analyzed and vetted. These have helped develop a Justice Center proposal which: (1) provides best solutions to serious security, safety and space issues to the courthouse, safety and space issues of the jail and the financial drain of money from our county, and (2) preserve the history of the courthouse and allows us to build equity in a structure of our own which will meet current and future needs as they arise, all on land currently owned by Johnson County except for one piece of property, the acquisition of which is currently under discussion.