The Gazette covers City Hall, now a flood-damaged icon on May's Island in the Cedar River

Downtown state of mind set for a boost: Construction sort of starts on new federal courthouse

In City Hall on February 4, 2009 at 2:55 pm

It was the oddest sight this week: an end loader scooping snow off the vacant lot between First and Second streets SE and Seventh and Eighth avenues SE.

Turns out, construction has kind of started on the long-awaited federal courthouse.

Jim Snedegar, project manager at the U.S. General Services Administration in Kansas City, Mo., reports that a contractor was removing the snow so that a ground-penetrating radar study of the site could be conducted.

The study, Snedegar says, will give the GSA a three-dimensional model of everything below the ground down to about 10 feet. The GSA wants to know if there are pipes, old foundations, abandoned utility lines or whatever else below ground as it prepares to do grading and then foundation work for the new courthouse, he says.

Grading at the site won’t begin until the snow is gone, Snedegar says. Grading, he assures, will be underway in the spring.

Late last month, the City Council agreed to transfer the city-owned site to the GSA in exchange for the existing federal courthouse once the new one is open.

The new courthouse will straddle First Street SE and face the downtown. It will require First Street SE to end at Seventh Avenue SE, not at Eighth Avenue SE where it ends now. And look for that change to First Street SE soon.

The courthouse project had languished for years on the federal government’s courthouse priority list.

June’s flood damaged the existing federal courthouse in the 100 block of First Street SE, which helped make the case for funding the construction of a new courthouse. The project then received a $182-million federal earmark at the end of September.

Snedegar says the new courthouse will take three years to build. Scheduled opening is now the fall of 2012, he says.

The design concept for Cedar Rapids’ new courthouse — which is the work of Williams Rawn Associates, Architects of Boston and OPN Architects of Cedar Rapids — has been by and large in place since 2004 and awaiting construction money.

The design features a front-arcing face with a glass wall 300 feet wide and 100 feet high on the right front and a stainless-steel surface with windows on the left front. The five courtrooms are on the right and offices on the left, with judges’ chambers on the eighth story.

Ryan Cos. US Inc., with a regional office in Cedar Rapids, is construction manager of the project.

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