A third year law student had a courtroom lesson this week not mentioned on the syllabus – dodge and run to avoid chunks of plaster falling from the ceiling of the Johnson County Courthouse.
Katie Crecelius, 25, a University of Iowa Law School student, said she was with five other law students helping pro se divorce clients Monday when the crash happened in courtroom 3-A, which is the main courtroom for felony trials in the building.
“We were getting ready to leave when and I was gathering up some paperwork on the table when this chunk fell from the ceiling right in front of my face,” Crecelius said. “A piece of it hit my hand. I wasn’t hurt but I was shocked. It’s a vaulted ceiling, I’m just glad it didn’t hit my face or head. The client didn’t get hit but it fell on her paperwork.”
Crecelius said it was about a 3×3 foot chunk that came down on the counsel table where a defendant would sit if court was in session.
Crecelius said 6th Judicial District Judge Mitchell Turner walked in after the crash joking about someone filing a tort action for injury, which luckily didn’t happen.
Turner said this wasn’t a maintenance issue.
“The maintenance people do a fantastic job with this beautiful old courthouse,” Turner said. “The point is that this place was dedicated in 1901 – it’s over 111 years old. It truly does have limitations and issues that are not readily apparent when someone drives by and sees this great piece of architecture on the hill. I doubt if there are many 100 plus old buildings in the area being used today as this one.”
Turner said the condensers on the roof were added at some point and there is apparently a problem with condensation and the water collects and eventually seeps through the ceiling.
Sixth Judicial District Judge Douglas Russell said there is also a problem when it rains and the water doesn’t drain off the roof, specifically along the east wall.
“This is our workplace environment,” Russell said laughing.”Things like this have happened before.”
Sixth Judicial District Judge Paul Miller experienced one of those “things” up close and personal as his entire chamber ceiling came crashing down last year. His chamber or office is at the back of 3-A.
“All my files got wet, it was a mess,” Miller said. “It’s an old building with a drainage problem.”
In May, after the $43.5 million bond issue for the justice center failed for the second time, the Johnson County Board of Supervisors discussed alternative options to address renovations at the courthouse such as replacing boilers and the ongoing moisture problem. The board didn’t come to any final decision but planned to find out costs of the renovations to determine if it is feasible to make the “band-aid” repairs.