COURTHOUSE UPGRADE: $81m Bond Passes

The second time was a charm for Polk County officials.

In 2008, a vote to fund courthouse renovations failed. A second attempt to fund the plan was successful Tuesday.

Over two thirds of voters said “yes” to borrow $81-million for a three-stage court makeover.

The current set-up with the juvenile courtroom sharing an entrance with the criminal courtroom was described as being “very unsafe,” by District Court Judge Eliza Ovrom.

When the courthouse was built more than a century ago, it had just four courtrooms. Now it houses 28.

For supporters of the referendum, like Mary Kramer of Public Safety for Polk County, the renovations are a long time coming.

“There have been attempts in the past to renovate the courthouse,” she said, “but for one reason or another, they were always put off. Tonight, I’m relieved.”

Kramer and Ovrom say that the changes will not only make the county’s justice system more efficient, they will also improve the safety of those caught inside it.

“Children and dometic violence victims have sometimes had to wait for trials in the same hallways–even sit on the same benches–as the perpetrators of the crimes they were involved in,” Kramer said.

Now, all criminal courtrooms move to the old jail building across the street where there will be proper space to separate victims and criminals.  Meanwhile, juvenile and small claims cases move to the old JC Penney building across Mulberry Street.

Supporters of the referendum also point out the courthouse’s central location and it’s ornate facades, claiming that its renovation will only add to the growing appeal of downtown Des Moines.