Government

Renovations coming at Johnson County Courthouse

$1.1 million planned for work after county attorney's office moves

The Johnson County Courthouse is seen from the fourth floor at the MidWestOne OnePlace building on South Clinton Street in Iowa City. The Johnson County Attorney’s Office will be moving to the space this fall, freeing up space in the crowded courthouse. (Liz Martin/The Gazette)
The Johnson County Courthouse is seen from the fourth floor at the MidWestOne OnePlace building on South Clinton Street in Iowa City. The Johnson County Attorney’s Office will be moving to the space this fall, freeing up space in the crowded courthouse. (Liz Martin/The Gazette)
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IOWA CITY — Issues of cramped workspaces, security and renovations have plagued Johnson County’s nearly 120-year-old courthouse building for years.

But a solution — albeit a temporary one — is in sight.

This fall, the Johnson County Attorney’s Office will move to the nearby MidWestOne Bank building, 500 S. Clinton St., opening space on the courthouse’s first floor.

County supervisors plan to add one large courtroom or two small ones to that space and are bonding $1.1 million for the needed renovations in the fiscal year beginning July 1.

Supervisor Mike Carberry said space also might be available to move another county department to the building, which would free up another space for renovation.

“It’s like musical chairs, in a way,” Carberry said.

Carberry said the supervisors are interested in putting around $1 million a year toward courthouse renovations over the next five years.

The seven-year, $1.8 million lease for the county attorney’s office will be for 8,613 square feet on the fourth floor of the nearby bank building.

The lease comes with three renewal options, and MidWestOne Bank will cover about one-third of the space’s build-out costs.

County Attorney Janet Lyness said the move is merely a Band-Aid.

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“I would say this is a temporary fix,” Lyness said. “My hope is we will continue talking about future plans. That we would be trying to do something within the next five to ten years.”

Johnson County’s courthouse, built in 1901, and its jail — almost 40 years old — have faced space and security concerns for years.

In 2014, a referendum to finance an expansion of the courthouse failed to gain the required 60 percent supermajority.

Larger justice center projects aimed at both the courthouse and jail needs also failed to get enough votes in 2012 and 2013.

In 2016, the county finished building a secure entrance to the courthouse.

County officials say they will continue to look for ways to address crowding and security issues at the jail and the courthouse.

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