Courthouse annex over budget


After introducing a new design for the Johnson County Courthouse annex, officials have seen a price increase.

On Wednesday, Neumann Monson Architects and Venture Architects revealed the new design of the courthouse annex after a series of public hearings and comment sessions.

The current annex had an increase of about $3.4 million, from $30.8 million to $34.2 million.

Besides the budget, the estimated area has also increased from 72,039 to 74,323 square feet.

Officials have yet to decide on a courthouse annex plan for the Nov. 4 ballot, and they have a little over two weeks to complete the ballot language.

One of the reasons for the cost increase is because of a change in location. The original annex was to be located on Harrison Street; the plans now have moved it to the west side of the courthouse.

After taking into consideration the public’s strong views on honoring the existing courthouse, to be pedestrian-friendly, and to keep a clear view of the courthouse, the architects have designed a building with two levels, a basement and an atrium with a grand staircase passing through the middle with a clear view of the courthouse.

The floor plan is to have six courtrooms, offices for judges on both levels, a sally port area that would allow inmates to enter the building securely and a park-like roof for the public to enjoy.

In addition to that, there will be a small basement for courthouse storage, as well as two holding cells.

“Just to be clear, this [basement] has a 10-foot interior,” said Kim McDonald, the principal architect from Neumann Monson Architects. “It will never be used as a jail.”

The new building will be expandable if new programs or more courtroom space is needed.

“I just haven’t heard anyone really against this project except for, ‘Dang it’s expensive,’ ” Johnson County Supervisor Terrence Neuzil said. “But that’s the problem with every building in this whole world.”

He said the high cost of the building is associated with what it would take for a building that would address current and future needs. However, he thinks that the new estimate is too much of an increase.

The west annex would require a switch to concrete frame, which will cost more than the original structure chosen for the Harrison Street location.

“We are not in a cash position right now with commercial property tax hold back that I see us able to make a huge down payment here,” Supervisor Janelle Rettig said.

McDonald said that they have been looking for ways to decrease the approximate cost, and it would be possible to reduce the estimate by about $1.5 million if the pedestrian roof is scaled back to a smaller area and the atrium is shrunk.

“Speaking as a worker in the building, I think the conceptual rendering is really excellent and much superior to the Harrison Street alternative,” said 6th District Judge Doug Russell. “If the construction of this project is more than the other, it is justified by the changes that have been made, and I think the public would approve of.”

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