INDIANOLA, Iowa - A district court judge has ordered the temporary closure of the Warren County Courthouse, saying the building is not suitable for use as a courthouse; citing health and safety concerns. On Friday, June 24, the Chief Judge of Iowa’s Fifth Judicial District - Arthur E. Gamble - ordered the emergency closure of Warren County Courts effective Monday, June 27, at 4:30 p.m. The Warren County District Court, including all district judges, the clerk of court, and court staff will temporarily relocate to the Madison and Marion county courthouses and the Warren County Juvenile Services offices. The courts will reopen at those locations on Thursday, June 30, at 8:00 a.m.
The order by Chief Judge Gamble, states that on June 16, 2016, (Warren Co. Bd. of Sup. 6-16-16) the Court notified the Warren County Board of Supervisors that the Warren County Courthouse is not suitable for use and habitable for occupancy by the courts for the reasons stated in the County's engineering reports ( KJWW. HVAC, Electrical..., KJWW. Water Piping) and air quality survey (Indoor Air Quality Survey). The court order also states that the Court notified the Board of Supervisors that due to the condition of the County Courthouse, repair work involving removing asbestos (Mid-Iowa Environmental), turning off the water to install a bypass, and reactivating the plumbing could not be safely done while the courthouse is occupied by the courts.
"This has been a headache for our office," said Warren County Attorney John Criswell. Criswell says the closure means his office won't be nearly as available to the public or efficient as it would otherwise be. "My prosecutors, the attorneys, my self-included, we`ve got to go to other counties, other towns to go to court, which means a loss of time and travel and also travel expense," said Criswell.
Chief Judge Gamble's order says the asbestos removal currently taking place at the courthouse and the plumbing work scheduled for Thursday needs to be done, but adds that "the planned work scheduled presents an imminent risk to the health and safety of court staff and courthouse visitors in Warren County. The court continues to believe this work cannot be safely done while the Warren County Courthouse is occupied by the courts."
"The first thing we`ve got to do is to get the asbestos off the pipes, so we can see if there`s any smoke leaking from these pipes," said Warren County Board of Supervisors Chair Doug Shull. Shull says the board of supervisors was surprised by the judge's order to temporarily close the courthouse. "I was, yeah, we didn`t expect that to happen," said Shull. Shull says the courthouse has been maintained properly over the years, but says its infrastructure needs work. "It was built in 1938, and probably some of this stuff has gone beyond its time, so we need to make some improvements. As for a permanent solution to the problem, Shull says that will likely have to come before the voters again. "I would guess that maybe in March of 2017 is the first time we can run the bond vote up the flagpole again and we`ll try to do that and try to come up with a new plan and try to do our thing," said Shull.
Just last month voters rejected a $35 million bond referendum to build a new justice center and jail in warren county that would have paid for fixes and renovations to the courthouse. As for the courthouse being temporarily closed, the order will remain in effect until the fifth judicial district court says otherwise.