116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
IOWA CITY - Johnson County voters for the third time have voted down a courthouse annex - even after officials removed an expanded jail from previous proposals.
The $33.4 million courthouse expansion got 56.9 percent of the vote, falling well short of the needed 60 percent.
'More than the majority of people in Johnson County understand the need for more safety and security at the courthouse,” Johnson County Attorney Janet Lyness said. 'Unfortunately, it's hard to get to that supermajority.”
Lyness said county officials didn't do enough to show voters the expansion did not include additional jail beds.
The defeat comes after two other failed bond issues, in 2012 and 2013, for a Justice Center that would have included more jail space. Johnson County voters also rejected a 2000 referendum on a $19 million new jail off Highway 218 on Iowa City's west side.
The 2014 proposal included a three-story annex built into the hill behind the courthouse at 417 S. Clinton St. Inside would have been 69,000 square feet of space, including new courtrooms, judge offices, conference rooms, temporary detentions cells, a larger Clerk of Court office, restrooms and handicap-accessible entrances.
The courthouse, built in 1901, was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1975. The courthouse has six courtrooms, including the one original courtroom and a 200-seat chamber on the third floor.
As Johnson County's population has grown to nearly 140,000, the courthouse has become cramped, outdated and potentially dangerous, according to expansion supporters.
The expansion would have included moving the courthouse's primary entrance to the south side of the building, where guests would go through metal detectors. A sally port on the lower level of the annex would allow deputies to transport inmates to the courthouse for hearings without having to use the same entrances as the public.
'Security is a huge issue,” Johnson County Sheriff Lonny Pulkrabek said Tuesday night.
He was disheartened by Tuesday's results. 'I don't know what else can be done,” he said.
By increasing the number of courtrooms to nine overall and adding judge offices, the expansion was expected to allow Johnson County to have more judges and easier scheduling of hearings and trials.
The Johnson County Board of Supervisors has been clear whatever the outcome of the courthouse expansion vote, jail crowding and safety must still be addressed. The county expects to spend more than $3 million in coming years on repairs and improvements on the 33-year-old building.
Past opponents to jail expansion had spoken in favor of the courthouse annex.
'There are real space and facility needs at the courthouse,” University of Iowa History Professor Jeff Cox told The Gazette last month. Cox had disapproved of Justice Center proposals in 2012 and 2013 because he said they were too large.
But the annex had detractors who want the county to improve racial disparities in arrest rates and deal with other flaws in the criminal justice system.
Supervisor Janelle Rettig said the county will regroup with a new proposal:'We go back to the drawing board and we come up with something new.”