Courtroom in Iowa gets $274K renovation
IOWA CITY — A recent courtroom renovation is bringing part of the 116-year-old Johnson County Courthouse into the 21st century, allowing it to better meet the needs of the modern justice system.
Contractors have spent six weeks gutting courtroom 3B down to the steel support beams, even replacing the original concrete, which had structural issues and was sagging underfoot. The courtroom is used for juvenile and criminal cases, and the new design will allow for new video conferencing capabilities and greater flexibility in using the space.
“My goal was to make the space as flexible as possible because we have a multitude of functions we do up there,” said Judge Deb Minot, who is typically assigned to the courtroom.
Minot told the Iowa City Press-Citizen she was thrilled by the results of the $274,000 project.
The renovation is a blend of new and old, adding audiovisual equipment including large screen TVs and internet ports, while discarding the courtroom’s former 1970s wood paneling aesthetic and returning the room to as close to its historic appearance as possible, said Johnson County Construction Manager Michael Kennedy.
The new courtroom design is more modular, with a removable jury rail and space for two tables for use by lawyers, defendants and plaintiffs. It also complies with modern standards required by the Americans with Disabilities Act.
A new door leading to the jury room means that jurors will no longer need to walk in and out of the courtroom past emotional people in the gallery, and changes to the room’s layout mean victims will not have to walk past the defendants accused of the crimes against them.
Kennedy said construction crews expanded the scope of the project to include ripping out the floor once they discovered the extent of the concrete’s deficiency.
“It was a lightweight concrete so it had a lot of foreign objects in it like chunks of coal, slag and items that don’t add to the strength of the product,” he said of the floor. “And that’s why it was sagging, because it was moving. It wasn’t rigid anymore.”
While they tried to schedule the renovations for when the courtroom was less likely to be used, officials still had to improvise, holding hearings in the library and jury room as well as other courtrooms.
“I’ve joked that we were going to do court on the picnic table if we needed to,” Minot said.
And space at the courthouse is an ongoing need, said Johnson County Attorney Janet Lyness. Since 2012, Johnson County has put three bond proposals on the ballot that would have allowed for the expansion of the courthouse and the construction of a new county jail, but those proposals did not receive the 60 percent supermajority needed to pass.
In lieu of a new facility, the courthouse last year added a secure entrance at the back of the building, complete with a walk-through metal detector and additional security staff. Although Lyness would like to eventually see additional courtroom space for the county, renovations like those in courtroom 3B are important for maintaining the quality and safety of the current building, she said.