Staff, public return to courthouse nearly five years after tornado

T-R PHOTOS BY ROBERT MAHARRY — A large crowd of community members, Chamber ambassadors and county employees led by Marshall County Supervisor Steve Salasek (center, holding scissors) gathered to officially cut the ribbon on the newly renovated Marshall County Courthouse Wednesday morning.

It’s been a long time coming.

Just a few months shy of five years after an EF-3 tornado ripped through downtown Marshalltown and left one of the community’s most iconic buildings in shambles, the new and improved Marshall County Courthouse reopened to the public on Tuesday, and a ribbon cutting was held with the Marshalltown Area Chamber of Commerce Wednesday morning before the Board of Supervisors meeting to mark the special occasion.

“It feels really surreal to be back in here with people. When it was open and the public was coming in yesterday, it started to sink in that it was real that we were back in here,” County Auditor/Recorder Nan Benson said. “It feels so good to have a phone and files and all of my stuff in just one spot. I can’t even hardly describe it.”

No two individuals were more involved in the process of bringing the courthouse back to life — which involved, among other things, a derecho about halfway through and a change in general contractors in 2021 — than Benson and County Buildings and Grounds Director Lucas Baedke, who joked they have essentially shared an office for the last 4 ½ years.

As residents know, the county has utilized a variety of temporary spaces throughout the reconstruction, including Great Western and now First Interstate Bank, the Max Building, the Orpheum Theater, the Marshall County Elections Center (the former fire station) and Veterans Memorial Coliseum, but both Baedke and Benson are excited and thankful to return to their old home at long last.

Jack Edwards of Albion, right, visited the brand new county treasurer’s office on Wednesday morning and was so happy to be there that he let the newspaper take his picture.

“Just being to the point where we can bring people in the building (and) having that occupancy, I haven’t heard anybody come in and say ‘Well, I can’t believe it took so long’ and all that stuff. I haven’t heard anything but positivity from people, and that’s great,” Baedke said. “Just the amount of positive feedback was really nice for me to get that sigh of relief like ‘Alright, this is working.'”

Baedke said he spent about three days bouncing from office to office to see how staffers in each department were liking the new digs, and almost everyone was in awe of the way the 19th century building’s historical integrity was kept intact with a host of modern flourishes.

“I heard a lot of positive (feedback) yesterday, and we had a lot of assessor people on third (floor)… They go ‘I’ll just keep walking around. It looks so nice.’ Nobody was angry about it,” Benson said.

Benson isn’t the only department head who’s happy to be back, as County Attorney Jordan Gaffney, County Treasurer Deann Tomlinson and County Assessor Blaze Wurr all shared their excitement in emails to the T-R.

“All of our staff in the County Attorney’s Office are thrilled to once again be open to the public. We are especially excited to have a dedicated meeting space for staff to meet with victims, witnesses, and law enforcement,” Gaffney said. “I am grateful for everything that’s been done to make this project successful and grateful to all our community partners who supported us during our facilities challenges. It was because of the generosity of the Marshalltown Police Department, Marshall County Sheriff, Marshalltown Public Library, the Iowa Valley Community College District, the Marshall County Board of Supervisors, and so many others that we were able to continue engaging with the people we serve on an in-person basis. That’s an essential part of what we do. Moving forward, we’re excited to put our Courthouse remodel to good use!”

On the official reopening day Tuesday, over 700 people went through the courthouse between staff and members of the public who were in to pay taxes, pick up their vehicle registrations or complain about their property assessments. Baedke joked that until recently, he immediately treated anyone he saw inside of the courthouse with suspicion, so seeing people freely walking around has required a bit of an adjustment period.

One thing those who have walked through thus far will likely notice is that work will still be continuing, likely for another month or so, and the courts have not yet moved back into the space as the fourth and fifth floors and the tower at the top are not yet completed. In addition, fencing remains up around the courthouse square, but the hope is to have it down and have the outdoor area back open to the public before long.

Supervisor Steve Salasek, who was first elected in 2016, recalled sticking his head out of the top of the courthouse alongside Baedke on the night of the storm and how far things have come since then.

“What a traumatic moment that was, and here we are now, all sitting together, with this project 98 percent complete. It means a lot to me,” Salasek said.

After about $45 million worth of work — the vast majority of which was covered through an insurance settlement with EMC — the supervisors and department heads are confident they will be working in one of the finest courthouses in the state, if not the nation.

“Walking out this morning and seeing that many people from the public and our employees on a beautiful day like today, everyone was just beaming with joy, and it made me just honored to be part of Marshall County and part of this process, beginning as I was a treasurer and now I’m a board member,” Board of Supervisors Chairman Jarret Heil said. “To see all ends of this project and all of the work that’s been put into it, and I think especially for Lucas and Nan, I’m excited for them to have this project nearing being complete, because it’s consumed their lives. I’m excited for them to come and close that chapter because it’s been a long chapter and a tough chapter.”


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