Cedar Rapids City Hall closed up to 30 days

Iconic building takes on floodwater in the basement

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CEDAR RAPIDS — The city’s flagship building — City Hall — could be out of commission for up to 30 days, but hopefully fewer, city officials said on Thursday.

That means key functions like paying utility bills, getting liquor licenses and public meetings, such as City Council, are to continue at temporary locations.

“We are hopeful that it will not take 30 days to get back into City Hall, but we want to ensure the building is safe before our employees move in and we start serving citizens,” said City Manager Jeff Pomeranz.

Water has been pumped out of City Hall, 101 First St. SE on the east bank of the Cedar River, and back into the river for the past few days as the channel rose to its second highest crest ever — just under 22 feet — on Tuesday. Cedar Rapids Finance Director Casey Drew said the building took on floodwater, but the continued pumping has kept the water intake — and the damage — minimal, at least so far.

“Our focus has been to keep it as dry as possible,” Drew said. “It’s fine so far, but we haven’t fired anything up yet. We are bringing on the electricity today.”

Most of the damage appears to have impacted basement rugs and drywall, he said. Perhaps the biggest bullet dodged is the mechanical, heating and electric systems, which remain in the basement but don’t appear compromised, he added.

Before acquiring the iconic former federal courthouse in 2011 as part of a land swap, the federal General Services Administration, which owned the building, paid to renovate it and returned mechanical systems back to ground level. Many public and private organizations elevated mechanical and electrical systems out of harm’s way after the flood, but not in this case.

“When we took over, the decision had already been made to put everything back where it was, but I am not sure why,” Cedar Rapids Mayor Ron Corbett said, adding city officials didn’t then want to spend a considerable amount of money to move the equipment.

Because the General Services Administration paid for the flood damage and not the Federal Emergency Management Agency, the building would likely be covered if it did flood under city ownership, The Gazette reported in 2010.

Drew said, given recent events, the idea of moving the equipment to a higher level is likely to get some discussion in the future.

City Hall had been located in the Veterans Memorial Building on May’s Island from 1927 until getting flooded in 2008, and then was in temporary quarters for four years before opening in its current location on June 4, 2012. The first City Council meeting was in the new location on June 26, 2011.

The building where City Hall now resides opened in 1933 and initially housed the U.S. Postal Service in addition to the federal court system, said Mark Stoffer Hunter, History Center historian.

Severe damage in the 2008 flood hastened the construction of a new federal courthouse on Seventh Avenue SE, opening the door for the city.

Until City Hall reopens, services are in the following locations:

• City Clerk, Community Development, Finance, Community Development-Housing and the Human Resources departments are at the former Ambroz Recreation Building, 2000 Mount Vernon Road SE.

• City Treasurer, where water payments are processed, and Civil Rights Department are at the Water Administration Building, 1111 Shaver Road NE.

• Mayor, City Council and City Manager’s Office are at the City Services Center, 500 15th Ave. SW.

All Department phone numbers remain the same.

City spokeswoman Maria Johnson said city officials are seeking a temporary location for the Oct. 11 City Council meeting, but the hope is the Oct. 25 meeting can be held back in City Hall. The Sept. 27 City Council meeting was held on the campus of Kirkwood Community College.

For all of The Gazette's Flood 2016 coverage, please visit our flood coverage center.

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