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Lee County Approves Preliminary Design Work for Proposed Courthouse

Jason Parrott
The Lee County Board of Supervisors approved a preliminary design proposal for a possible new courthouse. The design will cost about $3,800.

The Lee County Board of Supervisors voted to place a nearly $9 million bond referendum for a new courthouse on the November ballot without knowing what the building might look like. But it appears that will soon be resolved because the county accepted a proposal to develop a preliminary design.

The proposal came from Ed Soenke, an architect from West Des Moines, and John Hanson, President of Midwest Construction Consultants in Houghton, Iowa. Both have quite a bit of experience working with Lee County.

Hansen oversaw the expansion and renovation of the Lee County Jail several years ago and the construction of the Conservation Department’s new office. Soenke participated in the recent structural review of the county’s historic courthouses in Keokuk and Fort Madison and worked for the county on projects at both buildings in the past.

Following Tuesday's board meeting, Hansen and Soenke said their offer was unsolicited, adding they hope to have a design ready for public viewing by late September or early October, which is about the time early voting gets underway in Lee County.

The design would primarily provide external views of the courthouse along with a preliminary floor plan. Vice Chairman Matt Pflug, who is the liaison to the Lee County Health Department, asked for two versions. One will have space for the health department, the other will not.

Finding space for the health department in a new courthouse is just one option.

County Board Chairman Ron Fedler has said several times that if the bond referendum is approved, he would like the Health Department to move into the north Lee County Office Building near the riverfront. He said if the vote fails, he would support putting a bond referendum on an upcoming ballot for the health department to borrow several million dollars for a new building.

The vote on the offer to provide a design proposal was 3-2, the same as the vote to place the question on the ballot

  • Yes – Ron Fedler, Rick Larkin, Don Hunold
  • No – Gary Folluo, Matt Pflug

A question raised during Tuesday's meeting was why the board accepted the proposal without putting the design project out for bid.
Fedler said he chose not to seek bids because he was told they would likely come in in the range of $10,000 - $12,000, adding that would be a lot of money to spend without a guarantee the bond referendum would pass. He said that’s why he felt the board could not pass up on the offer from Soenke and Hansen.

“When [Soenke] came up with $3,800, I’m thinking why would you not jump at the chance when I was told it would cost that much more. So that’s why we moved ahead with that,” said Fedler.

Fedler said after the meeting that he believes Soenke and Hansen’s experience with the county allowed them to present a bid that he does not believe other firms would be able to match. He said the preliminary design will also be important if public meetings are held ahead of the November election.

It now appears that if the bond referendum is approved, it will be Soenke and Hansen who are involved in the design and construction of the new courthouse.

The roughly 36,000 square foot building with office space and four courtrooms is expected to cost about $8.5 million. It would likely be built on four acres of land the county owns near the jail complex.

Jason Parrott is a former reporter at Tri States Public Radio.