Polk County Justice Center Dedication
Remarks by Chief Judge Arthur E. Gamble
November 14, 2016
One hundred and ten years ago at a gathering much like this, citizens and public officials dedicated the Polk County Courthouse. Our historic Courthouse was constructed of Indiana limestone in a Beaux Arts Renaissance style and has served as the seat of county government and the district court for generations. As Polk County grew over the years, county offices gradually relocated to other facilities and the state courts expanded throughout the courthouse. By the end of the 20th Century, the Polk County Courthouse was overcrowded and in need of substantial repair.
Today, we are witnesses to a new renaissance of buildings for justice in our community as we dedicate the Polk County Justice Center just across the street from the historic courthouse. This beautiful new Justice Center is part of a multi-phase project approved by Polk County voters three years ago. The adaptive reuse of the former Wellmark Building is the second phase of the multi-year project. Last session, the legislation passed by the General Assembly and signed into law by Governor Branstad appropriated funds for furniture and equipment for all of the Judicial Branch offices and courtrooms. The entire project will be complete by November of 2020.
The Polk County Justice Center is an example of what can be achieved when state and local leaders work collaboratively with an eye toward governmental efficiency and fiscal responsibility. While this project represents a sizable investment of public funds, it also saves money that would otherwise be committed to leases for Magistrates’ court, the Clerk’s office and County Attorney John Sarcone’s office without any return on investment. The savings help offset the cost of bonds used for the construction of this facility. On behalf of the Fifth Judicial District of Iowa, we express our gratitude to The Polk County Board of Supervisors for your wise use of public funds for the promotion of justice in our community.
With technical support from the National Center for State Courts, our local architects Dave Hill, Emily Kistner and OPN, have done a fantastic job in the design of the Justice Center. The exterior has been completely transformed with a finish of zinc, glass, wood and limestone quarried in Indiana to complement the historic courthouse across the street. This unique architectural theme is carried on throughout the building with durable and reasonably priced materials. The Justice Center is light and airy. It has ample waiting space for the public. The courtrooms provide a quiet and dignified space for the resolution of disputes with modern technology for the presentation of evidence. The public space has video signage for the dynamic display of the court’s schedule to help our court users find their way to court on time.
Our juvenile court on the second floor includes a secure holding facility for youth in detention and a safe corridor to escort them to the courtrooms away from public view. In the children’s waiting area, victims of child abuse have a safe, comfortable, and age appropriate place to wait for hearings separate from the adults who may be accused of abusing them. Sometimes child victims cannot comfortably face adults in court so one of our juvenile courtrooms is equipped for video conferencing so that children can appear remotely from another room in the Justice Center. There are ample conference rooms outside of the courtrooms so that families, attorneys and service providers can meet privately for the benefit of children. We may never be able to make juvenile court an enjoyable experience for youth in our juvenile delinquency and child welfare systems. But it is our hope and expectation that the Polk County Justice Center that will promote their wellbeing and have a positive impact on the lives of children and families for generations to come.
This project would not have been possible without the support of the taxpayers of Polk County and the State of Iowa. We are grateful to the taxpayers for your support of justice in Polk County. There are so many individuals to thank for their work on this project that we cannot possibly name you all. Please rest assured that the contribution of each and every one of you is recognized and appreciated by Polk County and the Iowa Judicial Branch.
We would like to thank Supervisors Angela Connolly, Bob Brownell, John Mauro, Steve Van Oort and Chairman Tom Hockensmith for your support of the courts. This has been a long journey and we have not yet reached our final destination but we have enjoyed working with all of you throughout this project and we look forward to our continued collaboration. We would also like to recognize County Administrator Mark Wandro, General Services Director John Rowan, Assistant Chief Judge Eliza Ovrom, and District Court Administrators Elizabeth Baldwin and Christopher Patterson for their invaluable work behind the scenes. Thank you, Sheriff Bill McCarthy for making the Justice Center safe and secure.
Thanks also to former Supervisors E.J. Giovannetti and Martha Willits who along with former Senator and Ambassador Mary Kreamer spearheaded the public campaign in support of the bond referendum. We appreciate the advice and counsel of our campaign committee and the members of the Polk County Bar Association including past presidents Eric Turner, Guy Cook, Sue Ekstrom, Scott Brennan, Tom Levis, Steve Eckley, Bill Boyd, Angie Shutts, Nathan Overberg, Emily Chafa, and current president Bridget Penick. The successful bond referendum would not have been possible without your dedication.
After the bond referendum passed, we set about to secure funding from the State for furniture and equipment with the support of the Iowa Supreme Court and State Court Administrator David Boyd, the Iowa State Bar Association, the Iowa Judges Association, the Iowa State Association of Counties, the Greater Des Moines Partnership and many others. Thanks to all of you.
Thank you David Roederer, Director of the Iowa Department of Management, for your support of this project and please pass our appreciation on to Governor Branstad. We particularly appreciate the bi-partisan support of our Polk County legislative delegation including Senator Matt McCoy and House Majority Leader Chris Hagenow who were instrumental in passing the needed appropriations so that all of these facilities can function effectively.
As we dedicate this new Justice Center, we hope that all of you are proud of your contributions to this project. Thank you to everyone who helped make this vision a reality for the people we serve.