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Lee County Board Learns About Courthouse Plan

Jason Parrott
Dave Barrett said he plans to purchase the South Lee County Courthouse if voters approve a bond referendum for a new facility near the county jail.

The future of the South Lee County Courthouse in Keokuk hinges on the results of the Nov. 8 election as residents will decide whether the county should borrow about $8.5-million for a new courthouse. Dave Barrett of Keokuk said if the current facility is no longer needed by the county, he believes he can turn it into an asset for the entire community.

Barrett sent a letter to the county board in October, stating his interest in purchasing the courthouse, which is located at the intersection of 7th and Blondeau Streets. He met with members face to fact this week.

Barret said the sale would be contingent on the bond referendum passing and the courthouse being placed on the market.

“That is a beautiful building which I believe could be re-purposed,” said Barrett in an interview with Tri States Public Radio on Monday. “I have thought about it twice. Originally, I said maybe it would be retail, maybe it would be apartments. I think it would be all apartments, so I sat down and had the idea, 'let’s talk to [the board].'”

Barrett believes there are people who oppose the bond referendum simply because of the uncertainty surrounding the futures of the courthouses. He said that should not be an issue in Keokuk any longer.

“I am retired and I have a time to deal with this,” said Barrett. “I’m still a registered, professional civil engineer. I know the local contractors and I know the local architectural and engineering firms in town, between the two and some financing from one of the local banks, I think he could re-purpose that building rather quickly into something that is upscale apartments.”

Barrett said there are plenty of aspects of the existing courthouse that would make the project a success, including sewer and water access, off-street parking and the availability of an elevator. He anticipates it would be similar to the renovations of the former Fort Madison Middle School and the former Keokuk Eagles club into residential/commercial space.

“I’m intending to look at it as a good business expense,” said Barrett. “Take the building off the county’s hands for a reasonable price, knowing that I would look for tax abatements, but eventually, this would go on the tax rolls.”

Barrett’s letter has not gone over well with the entire county board.

Vice Chairman Matt Pflug questioned Barrett's decision to send his letter prior to Election Day, as opposed to waiting until after Nov. 8. Barrett said he came forward to make sure people knew the courthouse had a future.

“The people of Lee County need to stop and think, if they pass the bond issue, and I hope they do, that there’s not going to be a big, vacant building at the corner of 7th and Blondeau,” said Barrett. “We could have something that would look beautiful and serve the people of Keokuk.”

Barrett admits that at this point, he does not have a lot of details to provide about the project, describing it as conceptual as far as cost, financing, and design. He said he would be willing to talk about a price for the building if the bond referendum passes.

The bond referendum requires 60% approval to pass. The new courthouse would be built near the Lee County jail if approved.

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