Warren County Moves Forward on Iowa Courthouse

By Lisa Kopochinski

INDIANOLA, Iowa—With a completion date slated for May 2021, Warren County officials are in the process of receiving bids from numerous trade contractors through the construction manager for a redevelopment project of the Warren County Courthouse.

A decision will be made soon on the contracts to be awarded for the estimated $29.9 million project that includes a two-story building that will be almost exactly the same height as the former courthouse built 80 years ago.

Michael Lewis, a team leader with Des Moines-based Shive-Hattery, the design firm contracted for the project, says the demolition of the former courthouse is on schedule and should be completed in July with a groundbreaking in August for the new building.

Essentially, Warren County’s new Justice Center will be 80,000 square feet, which is approximately 50,000 square feet larger than the former building, which was condemned and is currently being demolished.

Lewis says the owner was faced with the impact of increased population growth along with the fiscal challenges closing its existing facility.

“The biggest design challenge was establishing best practice-based solutions for the justice center in this environment that would also meet their long-term needs. Replacing the historic town square structure had its own site challenges. To accommodate future growth for the courts and jail, modular construction elements were used to allow the facility to expanded horizontally.”

He adds that the largest expense over the life of the facility are staff and operations costs.

“Movement scenarios and functional considerations were carefully planned to support operational effectiveness.

It was in 1851 that Warren County’s first courthouse—a log cabin measuring 20 feet by 30 feet—was built. In 1868, a Victorian-style structure was constructed. However, after years of neglect, parts of that building were sagging and eventually collapsed.

A referendum to build a new courthouse failed in 1936, even though funding from the Public Works Administration (PWA) had been approved to assist with construction costs. A second referendum in 1938 was approved, and PWA funding was again made available. 

The building was constructed for $145,000. More than 12,000 people attended a dedication ceremony in 1939 and participated in the celebration, which included a parade, athletic events, a courthouse tour, concerts and a street dance. 

Approximately 50 years later in 1988, a 50-foot by 36-foot jail addition was built onto the rear of the building. The materials used in its construction matched those of the 1939 building.

The building was listed in the National Register of Historic Places in 2003. In 2016, the Iowa 5th Judicial Court, located in the building, closed the court offices due to health concerns associated with the building. The jail closed in 2018 due to building code violations.

The former courthouse has two time capsules—one from 1938 and another from 1988—the latter when a jail addition was completed. Both time capsules are in storage with the county.

Lewis says his team is presently finalizing technical drawings for the new courthouse and that the building—including the county jail—will be visually appealing.

“The jail’s exercise yard will not be visible from the street,” he recently told Indianola officials. “And natural lighting will be provided by skylights rather than from windows.”

Additionally, officials expressed concern on whether the justice center’s gated parking would be open to the public. Lewis said it would be up to county officials to make that decision.

At present, a streetscape design project is nearly complete that will complement the courthouse project. Citizens and business owners have expressed concerns about the lack of downtown parking spaces that could result from the courthouse project.