New U.S. District Courthouse Opens for Business

By Trish Mehaffey, Reporter

CEDAR RAPIDS, Iowa - The U.S. District Courthouse was officially open for business Monday, and Chief Judge Linda Reade presided over her first hearing in the one of the five state-of-the art courtrooms with all technology successfully working.

U. S. District Clerk of Court Rob Phelps said the hearing lasted longer than expected but there were no problems and "it's on to day 2." Phelps said it was great having all the 175 tenants together in one building, which hasn't happened since June of 2008 when the other federal building flooded, along with much of the downtown area. The courthouse has been in a temporary location on C Street SW for the last four years and there wasn't space for all of the tenants to be at that location.

The court clerk's staff, judges, U.S. Bankruptcy, U.S. Probation, U.S. Attorney, Federal Public Defenders and the U.S. Marshals have moved into the $182 million eight-story glass structure at 111 7th Ave. SE, which overlooks the Cedar River. The only full-time tenant left to move is the U.S. Trustee and Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, and Sen. Tom Harkin, D-Iowa, who will also have office space in the building. There is also more space for conference and break rooms, storage, a library and chamber space for visiting judges from Sioux City and the Eighth Circuit.

"It's really nice," Chief U.S. Probation Officer John Zielke said as he gave The Gazette a tour of his office. "We have more space and individual offices. It's definitely helps morale. There's also more security for us and for the public. We have drug testing rooms, which is part of probation, and they are separate from our offices."

Zielke said his office of 27 moved in about a week ago.

U.S. Marshal Kenneth Runde said the biggest advantage is more space and safety. They have more holding cells for the defendants when they are in the building for hearings and trials, and they have a separate entrance for them, away from the public areas.

Runde said he was enjoying his totally transparent corner office on the 7th floor as he joked about not missing the limited windows in the temporary building which had little natural light and low ceilings. The more than 288,000 square foot federal building has blast resistant glass around the majority of the building.

The glass building allows a view of the atrium at the entrance of the building, which has a large marble staircase leading up to the second floor and hanging above is a large art installation made up of silhouettes of men's and women's heads to represent jurors created by Ralph Helmick.

Phelps said Helmick was awarded the Art in Architecture commission for the courthouse. He has created several sculptures and installations for diverse public spaces like the Denver Justice Center in Colorado and the Melvin B. Price Federal Building and U.S. Courthouse in East St. Louis, Ill.

Helmick created the silhouettes from real people who visited the farmer's market this year in downtown Cedar Rapids, Phelps said. The installation is illuminated at night and can be seen from the outside on the 7th Avenue side of the building.

There will be a open house for the public Dec. 7, but that event is by invitation only. Phelps said the building is also open to the public every day. The public areas, which includes the courtrooms, are open 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Monday- Friday.
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