CEDAR RAPIDS — Years of talk came to an end Monday when the new $182 million federal courthouse officially opened for business in downtown Cedar Rapids.
The courthouse project, planned for more than a decade, had languished behind other national courthouse-building priorities until the old courthouse was flooded in June 2008.
U.S. District Clerk of Court Rob Phelps said it’s great having all of the 175 tenants together in one building, which hasn’t happened since the flood. The courthouse has been in a temporary location on C Street SW for the last four years, and there wasn’t space for all of the tenants to be at that location.
“It’s really nice,” Chief U.S. Probation Officer John Zielke said as he gave The Gazette a tour of his office. “We have more space and individual offices.
“It definitely helps morale. There’s also more security for us and for the public. We have drug-testing rooms, which is part of probation, and they are separate from our offices.”
Zielke said his office of 27 moved in about a week ago.
Besides the clerk of court and probation offices, judges, the Bankruptcy Court U.S. Attorney’s Office, federal public defenders and the U.S. marshals have moved into the eight-story building that overlooks the Cedar River at 111 Seventh Ave. SE. The only full-time tenants left to move in are the U.S. Trustee’s Office and Sens. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, and Tom Harkin, D-Iowa, who also will have office space in the building.
The building features five courtrooms with state-of-the art technology. Phelps said Chief Judge Linda Reade presided over her first hearing in one of the courtrooms and there were no problems.
“It’s on to Day 2,” Phelps said.
U.S. Marshal Kenneth Runde said the biggest advantage to the new courthouse is more space and safety. There are more holding cells for the defendants when they are in the building for hearings and trials, and they have a separate entrance for them, away from the public areas.
Runde said he was enjoying his totally transparent corner office on the seventh floor as he joked about not missing the temporary building with its limited windows, little natural light and low ceilings.
The more than 288,000 square foot federal building has blast-resistant glass around the majority of the building.
The glass allows for a view of the atrium at the entrance of the building, which has a large marble staircase leading up to the second floor. Hanging above the staircase is a large art installation created by artist Ralph Helmick that features silhouettes of men’s and women’s heads to represent jurors.
Helmick created the silhouettes from real people who visited the farmers market this year in downtown Cedar Rapids, Phelps said. The installation is illuminated at night and can be seen from the outside on the Seventh Avenue side of the building.
Helmick, of Newton, Mass., has created several sculptures and installations for diverse public spaces like the Denver Justice Center in Colorado and the Melvin B. Price Federal Building and U.S. Courthouse in East St. Louis, Ill.
An invitation-only dedication for the building will be held Dec. 7, with an open house for the public scheduled for Dec. 14.
Phelps said the building is also open to the public every day. The public areas, which includes the courtrooms, are open 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Monday- Friday.