ARTICLE

Council member questions $10 million in courthouse renovations

City manager says project changed with plans to move more government operations

Residents watch the proceedings during the first Cedar Rapids City Council meeting in the new Council Chamber at the former Federal Courthouse April 26, 2011. (Jim Slosiarek/The Gazette)
Residents watch the proceedings during the first Cedar Rapids City Council meeting in the new Council Chamber at the former Federal Courthouse April 26, 2011. (Jim Slosiarek/The Gazette)

City Council member Don Karr asked city officials last night to explain how the renovation of the former federal courthouse into a new City Hall now had become a $10 million project.

City Manager Jeff Pomeranz, who was a proponent of moving City Hall to the former courthouse from its longtime home nearby in the Veterans Memorial Building on May’s Island, explained to Karr that the courthouse renovation initially came with a much smaller price tag when the council saw the building’s role as that of an annex to a City Hall in the flood-damaged Veterans Memorial Building.

Once the council decided to move much of the city’s operation into the courthouse, the scope of the renovation changed dramatically, Pomeranz noted.

In answer to Karr’s question, council member Justin Shields told his council colleagues that he wanted an explanation of costs so the public did not think a $4 million renovation project — which Karr said was the initial early cost — had skyrocketed to $10 million for no reason.

Pomeranz noted that city tax dollars would be paying only about $1 million of the renovation cost, with the rest coming from I-JOBS funding, a special state legislative earmark and historic tax credits.

Sandy Pumphrey, an engineer in the Public Works Department who is overseeing the renovation project, told the council that the renovation is being “carefully crafted” to meet the needs of the public for many years to come.

Pumphrey told council member Tom Podzimek that the building will provide 67,000 square feet of space for city government, to which Podzimek, a carpenter and contractor, did some math and concluded that the city would be paying $149 per square foot in what he said would be a quality renovation of a historic building. Podzimek called that price “a bargain.”

Council member Kris Gulick noted that the city was leveraging about $1 million in city funds for a total investment of $10 million.

Karr said he got exactly what he sought last night — a thorough update on the City Hall project “to get the costs out in the open” for the public to hear and understand.

The council already has returned to the new City Hall for its formal meetings, but the rest of the building won’t be ready for city government until next summer.

The city transformed the building’s large third-floor courtroom into the new council chambers.

The city estimates that the major construction contract for the building's renovation will cost about $6.4 million. Other renovation costs include design and engineering work as well as construction work and audio-visual equipment for the council chambers.

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