DES MOINES, IOWA — A project that has spanned the better part of a decade and cost nearly $100 million is finally completed.
“It feels like the court campus project has been going on for a decade, and guess what? It really has,” said Angela Connolly, the chair of the Polk County Board of Supervisors.
In 2013 voters passed a referendum for $81 million of taxpayer dollars to be allocated to building or renovating three different buildings. The first was taking a former J.C. Penney store into a Justice Center. And just across the street from the courthouse, the former Polk County Jail is now a criminal courthouse.
The ribbon cutting on Tuesday marked the final step in completing the years-long process.
“Disorganized, jumbled up mess,” said Vicki O’Conner, as she reflects on her time at the old courthouse as a former county employee. “You work here and you got to go clear over there and to go up and see a judge. It was just chaos most of the time.”
O’Conner and another former county employee both compared the old building to the new and the benefits of the new renovations.
“It’s just eerie. I mean to see the transition of what it used to be to now. Like I say, it’s just I think they did a marvelous job in keeping all of the restoration,” said Donny Bauer.
Thirty-nine million dollars were allocated for the specific renovations to the courthouse. These included opening up the 33-foot tall ceilings, hand-painted artwork, chandeliers, and restoring the six historic courtrooms while adding 17 modern courtrooms. The courtrooms had much-needed technical advancements that were much needed and highlighted in the COVID-19 pandemic.
“But along with this historic courthouse, it now incorporates state-of-the-art design and technology that I think rivals any court building in the nation,” said Chief Judge Michael Huppert of the 5th Judicial District of Iowa.
The courthouse also had air conditioning added as well as new plumbing for the whole building.