Commission discusses use of former jail, court buildings
Updated: Jun 20
Shaun West, Linn County public works administrator, right, discusses potential uses of the former district court chambers with county commissioners and other staff during a tour on Monday, May 22. (Roger Sims/Linn County Journal)
MOUND CITY - With the completion of the Linn County Justice Center north of the county courthouse last fall, the move by law enforcement and 6th Judicial District court offices into that building left a significant amount of space available in at least two now vacant buildings: the former sheriff’s office and jail and the former judicial center.
Members of the Linn County Commission toured those buildings as well as the former county attorney’s office at the end of their regular meeting on Monday, May 22. They made no decision on what offices would be moved to any of the open buildings.
During the tour, county Public Works Administrator Shaun West discussed which county offices could move to those buildings.
However, at the end of the tour he suggested that it might be better to hire a firm to look at current space needs and functions of county offices. That company might be able to come up with a floor plan for each building that would work better.
His suggestion was that the public works department, which now is in the courthouse annex across Main Street from the courthouse in Mound City, could move into the former sheriff’s office/jail along with the county maintenance department.
Except for the jail cells with concrete block walls and concrete ceilings, most of the interior walls were not load-bearing and could be removed to create a space that was more usable for his department, according to officials.
West also noted that the building had a garage and shop space that would be ideal for the maintenance workers to use.
Originally slated to be demolished once the Justice Center was complete, the building would work well for offices, he suggested. The former jail cells could be used as secure storage.
West also said that a garage just south of the old jail building would still be used by the sheriff’s office to secure vehicles that were impounded for evidence.
During the tour of the former jail building, Chris Martin, the county’s information technology director, noted that the office with the most visitors was the department of motor vehicles followed by the county clerk’s office, the county treasurer’s office and the register of deeds office, in that order.
While Martin’s suggestion did not follow the same direction as West’s tentative plan for the buildings, those concerns with the courthouse would resurface later in the tour.
As the group toured the former county attorney’s office, West told commissioners that the building was a doublewide set on a foundation that had a facade of brick. A narrow, tight hallway down the middle of the structure currently leads to equally tight offices and meeting areas.
“If you’re going to pick one to go,” West told the commissioners, “this is the one to go.”
In the former judicial building, West spoke about the use of the former courtroom, which had already been stripped of the seats and much of the woodwork. West suggested how that building could be used by the county appraiser’s office and the mapping department, currently housed on the second floor of the courthouse. There is currently no wheelchair access to those departments.
However, in discussing the needs of his office, County Clerk David Lamb pointed out that the current wheelchair ramp on the south end of the courthouse would likely not pass requirements of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). He said he doubted that the fairly steep incline and the narrow landings for making turns on the ramp would pass ADA requirements.
Lamb also pointed out that in addition to the wheelchair access problem, heating problems, old wiring, many extension cords and other factors made his space in the old courthouse less than ideal as an office space.
The conversation pointed out problems the courthouse has in meeting the needs of a contemporary office space, including accessibility and climate. .
In an email on Tuesday, Lamb said he would not be opposed to moving his office to a more suitable space. However, he also said that his office needed to be close to the county treasurer’s office because there is so much interaction between those two departments.
County Treasurer Janet Kleweno, however, has let it be known in the past that she intends for her office to remain where it is in the courthouse.
That was confirmed in a phone interview with her on Wednesday.
“I have no desire to leave this courthouse,” Kleweno said. “It works, so why change it?”
During the tour, some of the other problems with the courthouse were discussed.
Commission Chair Danny McCullough noted that several years ago when he was an employee with Midwest Restoration and was working on the courthouse, he found that some of the structure still had knob-and-tube wiring.
That style of wiring is a single wire coated with an asphalt based insulation and is run in “hot” and neutral wire pairs. That type of wiring, last used as late as the 1950s, falls far short of meeting current electrical codes, but its use is grandfathered in if it is in place.
It typically does not include grounding to outlets.
As McCullough left the tour, he stopped on the south side of the old courthouse and noted where cracks in the brick wall were again becoming apparent.
Commissioners decided to delay a decision until they could meet with the county’s contractor Randy Page and consider West’s suggestions.
However, Lamb noted that his office has already begun to work on budgets for 2024, and he would need to know soon how much would be spent on renovation from the 2023 budget and how much would be spent next year.
He also told commissioners that the state will require local governments – including the county, cities and school boards – to notify the state whether or not their 2024 budgets will be revenue-neutral by July 20. If they do not notify the state by then, budgets will be capped.