An ounce of common sense, along with a helping of cooperation, will save Story County taxpayers $3.2 million.
In recent years, the Story County Board of Supervisors has talked about a much-needed building addition at the Justice Center, mainly to accommodate the Story County Attorney’s office, which has outgrown its present space at the northeast corner of the building.
“They’ve been talking about a courtyard project for about six years,” said County Attorney Jessica Reynolds, who started her employment with the attorney’s office in 2008 and became Story County Attorney in 2016.
During a recent interview, Reynolds pointed to that outdoor courtyard, which is located just north of the entry lobby and sits between existing parts of the Justice Center building.
Right after she was sworn in, Reynolds said, “the board was continuing the discussion on building a $3.2 million addition (that would take over that courtyard). And, I said, ‘Wait a minute.’”
Reynolds had another idea about gaining much-needed space for her employees and for the people they serve.
On the lower level of the Justice Center, right next to the attorney’s office, was the courtroom where Juvenile Judge Steve Owen held court. Behind the courtroom was a sizeable work area, with several offices and a set of private restrooms (something the attorney’s office has not had). Directly above the courtroom was an identical courtroom and work area that was not being used, as well as a law library that was standing idle.
Reynolds talked to Owen about the idea of moving the juvenile court to the second floor, so that a few walls could be knocked down and her offices could expand into the courtroom and its office space. Because this court room and office area were right next to the attorney’s offices, removing those walls would increase the space of the county attorney’s offices from 3,000 square feet to 4,800 square feet, and the juvenile court would still have the same amount of space on the upper level.
“Steve was incredible,” she said. “He looked at the spaces with me…and said this is the right decision for Story County. Let’s do this!”
From there, the two talked to the other judges, who would be impacted by the move in small ways and when they were all in agreement that this made sense, Reynolds talked to the Board of Supervisors and to Story County’s facilities manager, Joby Brogden. Everybody was on board.
Reynolds said the renovation project will include knocking down a few walls and adding some secured waiting rooms. The most important thing the renovation will do, she emphasized, is increase safety for her employees, and the victims and witnesses they work with. It will do this by providing the staff, victims and witnesses a secure, private restroom and a secured and private entryway, which the juvenile court judge has had, to the courthouse. Presently, all people coming into the courthouse — including all victims and witnesses — enter through the same front doors and use the same set of public restrooms. This isn’t a good setup, Reynolds explained, especially when you consider how emotional people can get under these circumstances.
“We had a prosecutor assaulted seven years ago,” Reynolds said, and she is always cognizant of the dangers that the job entails.
Along with much-improved safety, the expansion project will also give more adequate workspace to the county attorney’s staff, which includes 15 attorneys, 10 staff members and five interns. The office staff has grown over the past 10 years so that it can better handle an increasing caseload and the seriousness of crimes that Story County prosecutes.
The Story County Attorney’s office also has space in Ames at the City Hall facility, near its courtrooms, and Reynolds said the expansion of the office in Nevada will allow for two attorneys who have worked in Ames to relocate to Nevada, where, because of the types of cases they handle, it makes more sense for them to be housed.
The juvenile courts have already relocated to the upper level of the Justice Center, but the renovations to expand the county attorney’s office won’t be completed for at least a year, Reynolds said. However, just knowing it’s on the horizon has her staff very excited. The previously considered addition to the building was estimated at $3.2 million, and the remodel of existing space is estimated at $200,000, so that’s a savings of $3 million.
When Reynolds thinks of the money being saved, she smiles. “To me, the neatest part of this is how we worked together.”