Changes are afoot at the Pottawattamie County Courthouse.
The front entrance walkway has been torn out to make way for a 22,000 square foot addition to the roughly 113,000 square foot courthouse. And the county is wrapping up renovations to the “B wing” of the courthouse that formerly housed the Council Bluffs Police Department. All part of roughly $12 million in upgrades to the courthouse.
“The idea is we want it to be something we’re super proud of, and on top of that bring us into the new century,” county Supervisor Justin Schultz said during a tour with Board Chairman Scott Belt last week.
The renovated space now houses Pottawattamie County Conservation, the Pottawattamie County Southwest Iowa Region Mental Health & Disability Services office, human resources, information technology and other departments. The county also moved the Recorder’s Office storage to the building, with records dating back to the 1860s included among shelf after shelf of books.
The wing includes three conference rooms named after the official state flower, bird and tree — Wild Rose, Goldfinch and Burr Oak.
Renovations to the 911 communication center space were nearly complete on Thursday, which included the addition of a break room and extra space for the department. During renovation dispatchers were operating out of the county’s backup center in Omaha. Once jackhammering was complete they were set to move into their home space, according to Angie Dobyns, training and quality assurance coordinator.
“It’s a work in progress,” Dobyns said during the tour as crews completed the final touches on dispatcher spaces.
On the bottom level of the former police building, there are renovated and new jail holding and transport area for prisoners attending court appearances. The space includes a control room with a large video wall for Pottawattamie County Sheriff’s Office staff to monitor prisoners in holding cells, along with one renovated and one new sallyport station for transportation, in addition to a second control room and additional cells for use when necessary.
“It’s come along pretty well,” Sgt. Josh Kirlin said during the tour.
The upgrades and addition will also allow the building to meet Americans with Disabilities Act requirements. And Schultz, Belt and others hammered home a key reason for the renovation and expansion:
“Ease of service. We wanted to consolidate the campus,” Schultz said. “Except for Veterans Affairs (located nearby on South Sixth Street), you’re able to handle everything in one building.“
The county plans to remove its services building, located across Fifth Avenue, and use the space for parking. Future plans include a new Pottawattamie County Public Health building — the department is currently located at the county’s annex building, adjacent to the courthouse — which could be placed on the services building site.
Upgrades to the Treasurer’s Office, including the installation of one large customer service counter, are planned as well.
The addition will include a new entryway in addition to increasing space for utilization by county offices.
The renovation and addition are projected to cost around $12 million, which includes $5.5 million already spent on the renovation. The county worked with the City of Council Bluffs to designate the courthouse area as an urban renewal district, allowing the county to bond for up to $16.9 million, according to Board of Supervisors Budget and Finance Director Mitch Kay.
“They were great to work with,” Schultz said of the city.
Schultz noted the in recent years the Board of Supervisors created a land fund, started with gaming fund monies, with an eye toward the work and other projects, while also using debt service to leverage the project.
The board members said the board did not have to raise levy rates to help with funding and taxpayers have not seen an increase to related levies. Schultz said growth in the county, along with current housing market conditions, have helped the county bring in revenue without the need to raise levy rates.
Kay said the goal is to keep the current courthouse campus work at around $12 million, with the other money sitting in reserve for the potential projects, including the public health building, if it’s in the urban renewal district.
As work continues, public access to the courthouse has been moved to the door on the corner of Fifth Avenue and South Sixth Street, and a wheelchair ramp has been installed.
“We’re trying to make this as easy on the public as possible,” said. Jason Slack, head of buildings and grounds for the county.
He added that when finished, “It’ll be a one-stop shop for everybody, with mechanical upgrades and improvements.”
Dave Loewens with Meco-Henning Contracting, the general contractor on the project, said crews expect to finish the addition by April of 2023. HGM Associates is the architect on the project.
“We’re hoping taxpayers are supportive and patient with access to the courthouse during the work. We’re doing as much as we can to alleviate that,” Belt said. “When it’s complete it should be much improved. The access to services will be much better.”