Warren County’s New Justice Center Options for Indianola

INDIANOLA, Iowa -- The Warren County Board of Supervisors met Tuesday to talk about the proposed justice center to replace the demolished courthouse, but neither of their options are what voters approved.

In August 2018, 70 percent of Warren County voters approved a $29.9 million dollar bond referendum, which paid for the demolition of the existing courthouse in Indianola's town square. The bond was also supposed to pay for the construction of a new courthouse and jail in the same location, but the board has since learned that it isn't enough money.

The board is considering two options. One would involve scaling back the top two floors of the proposed courthouse, adding a 9,000 square foot basement for future expansion; it would cost about $34 million. The other would involve moving the courthouse off the Indianola town square, which would allow for future expansion and improved parking; however, it would cost up to $42.3 million.

Indianola residents are divided over which option is most suitable for their community, but all agree it's time to do something about the giant hole in the middle of the town square.

Ashley Martin, the owner of Uncommon Grounds on the square, said she isn't opposed to moving the courthouse elsewhere, if that would mean potential for a park or pavilion in the center. However, she said it's crucial Warren County makes some progress as soon as possible, because local shops are losing business.

"When the courthouse was up and functioning, it was super busy and it brought in a lot of business," Martin said. "The longer it's closed the longer it will take away business away from all of us."

Cory Amos, who works at Pete's Pizza on the square, said the lost parking from fencing alone detracts business.

"We now are less 14 parking spots out front. That hurts us all the time," he said.

Amos described the empty lot as an "eyesore" to the community. "We had this beautiful courthouse and now it's gone and nothing is out here," he said. Amos said he prefers to have the courthouse rebuilt in the town square center again, but is upset the county wasn't able to foresee those extra costs.

"It will cost more than what we've already voted on to do? I don't understand how that could be," he said.

Martin said she does not want to pay extra taxes if she can avoid it, but will support whichever is the best option for the city in the long-run.

"There's pros and cons to every option," she said.

The courthouse was originally torn down due to health concerns earlier this summer. Indianola city council member, Joe Gezel, said this plan has been in the works for years.

"Everything so far is up in the air right now that it's almost virtually gonna have to go back to square one it sounds like," he said.

Although this is a county project, Gezel said the board has been diligent about including the city in their meetings to get input. If the county decides to move the courthouse offsite, it will need to get voters to approve a new referendum bond. Gezel said he doubts residents will want to pay more taxes.

"It's a bad situation for the whole county as a whole," Gezel said. He also expressed uncertainty as to whether or not the county would maintain ownership of the land if the courthouse ends up being built elsewhere.

"Who knows what could be there? A splash pad, a nice park or an amphitheater? I wouldn't have a clue but I'm sure there will be a lot of ideas coming out if that happens," he said.

In Tuesday's meeting, county supervisors took no action on either plan.

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