Government

Crews plan to work through winter on Linn County Public Health building

Work continues on the Linn County Percy and Lileah Harris Public Health Building in Cedar Rapids on Friday, Nov. 16, 2018. (Liz Martin/The Gazette)
Work continues on the Linn County Percy and Lileah Harris Public Health Building in Cedar Rapids on Friday, Nov. 16, 2018. (Liz Martin/The Gazette)
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CEDAR RAPIDS — In the six months since breaking ground on the public health and youth development services building, the framework has taken shape on what officials have called a statement project for Linn County.

Crews worked last week on the Dr. Percy and Lileah Harris Public Health and Youth Development Services building near 10th Avenue SE and Seventh Street SE with hopes of closing off as much of the structure as possible before the real cold weather arrives.

“We’ve got the structure up, and we’re working right now to get the thing enclosed and watertight, or at least a roof on, before winter,” said Kelly Edmonds, project manager with developer Rinderknecht Associates. “That will allow us to put temporary heaters inside the building so we can continue through the winter.”

While temporary heating comes with a cost, Edmonds said it’s common to close off a building to focus on interior work, such as electrical or plumbing components, during the winter months.

“Even with some weather delays, we look to be on schedule to get the building at least buttoned up so we can work inside over the winter,” county Supervisor John Harris said.

When complete, the 63,000-square-foot Dr. Percy and Lileah Harris Public Health and Youth Development Services building will house county public health services, youth development programs, and classrooms and public space for residents.

The building is estimated to cost around $28.1 million for the structure alone, with furnishings, consulting fees and miscellaneous costs estimated to add several million dollars to project’s the overall cost, officials have said.

Officials say the project remains on schedule for a fall 2019 opening.

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But while working through winter is common, Edmonds did say the public health building will have a unique look — specifically the exterior, which will include custom wood, metal and glass.

The interior will include an open layout, non-traditional finishes and wood flooring in parts, he added.

“You think of a county building or local government office building, it’s pretty institutional looking, with brick and drywall, ceilings and squares. This will be much different,” Edmonds said.

The structure is expected to achieve LEED Gold certification for sustainability.

“It’s great to actually see it become a reality,” said Supervisor Ben Rogers. “By all accounts, it’s going to be opened on time and within the budget we set, so that’s really encouraging.”

The building is named in honor of public health, education and civil rights advocates Percy and Lileah Harris.

The Harris family arrived in Cedar Rapids in the 1950s for Percy Harris’ internship with St. Luke’s Hospital, becoming the city’s first black physician.

The family faced their share of discrimination, including a 1961 vote among the St. Paul’s United Methodist Church congregation regarding whether to sell a Bever Avenue SE lot to the Harris family, but remained committed to the community.

Percy Harris, who eventually became medical staff president at St. Luke’s Hospital, was appointed as the first black member of the Iowa Board of Regents in 1977.

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Lileah Harris, who grew up north of Waterloo, was a classical pianist, singer, poet and painter, and always was learning. She finished her college degree, in Russian, at the University of Iowa at 62.

Percy Harris died last year at 89 years old. Lileah Harris died three years earlier, at 83.

While many have agreed with the building and its purpose, the county’s use of a lease-purchase agreement to secure a local developer for the project raised concerns among builder organizations.

Critics have argued doing so sidesteps competitive bidding rules, while county officials have said it allows for the best use of taxpayer dollars and provides the best end product.

Gov. Kim Reynolds earlier this year signed into law a bill that requires public bodies — cities, counties and state governments, including the Board of Regents — to go through a competitive bidding process before awarding contracts for public projects, including lease-purchase arrangements.

l Comments: (319) 398-8309; mitchell.schmidt@thegazette.com

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