Polk County Historic Courthouse

Des Moines, Iowa
  • Client
    Polk County
  • SQ. FT.
    135,063 square feet
  • Budget
  • Market
  • Year
    2015 Phase 1; 2022 Phase 2
  • • Illuminating Engineering Society
    Merit Award

The restoration of the Historic Polk County Courthouse accommodates the functional needs of the Fifth Judicial District while also preserving the defining characteristics of the 1906-Beaux Arts Classical style structure.

Over the last century, as the county’s needs evolved and changed, immediate demands on courtroom space resulted in short-term solutions that became long-term. Superficial repairs and changes were made without consideration of the historical context. The original building had six courtrooms. By 2014 the historic courthouse was operating with 29 courtrooms. In some instances, one of the original courtrooms had been subdivided into as many as 4 to 6 courtrooms. The building was overcrowded. Safety and security were also a primary concern.

The renovated historic courthouse is now home to primarily civic functions, including:

  • A dedicated jury assembly to make it easier for citizens to navigate jury duty responsibilities
  • A new clerk’s space
  • Payment center
  • Information center
  • Case schedulers
  • Polk County Sherriff and security spaces
  • 17 courtrooms

The first phase of the project, completed in 2015, included repairs to the exterior as well as all new exterior lighting. The interior renovations are the final phases of the overall master plan, which also included a Justice Center and Criminal Courts buildings, both of which are complete.

Justice, dignity, and safety are the main drivers for use in the new building. Though the majority of cases involving detainees and criminal cases occur in the Criminal Courts building, the historic courthouse will provide security in much the same way. Dedicated detainee circulation and elevators will separate all parties; detainees, staff/judges, and the public. The modernized layout allows courtroom use to be more flexible. This will allow the state to schedule and hear more cases with fewer courtrooms. It also creates spaces for the public and lawyers to hold conferences in private which didn’t previously exist.

The restoration and preservation of the historic courthouse bring the century-old building back to life by uncovering and restoring much of its original details and architecture. The design of the six original courtrooms will be restored down to the tapestry and paint schemes. Most of the historic furniture that was able to be salvaged was fully restored, including the judges’ benches. This project situates the building for its next century of service.

Key historical architectural features/renovations include:

  • Cleaning a century’s worth of dirt/smoke/grime from all the existing marble, terrazzo flooring and woodwork
  • Historically accurate plaster repair and paint scheme
  • Renovated and retrofitted historic lighting fixtures
  • Lighting accents of the rotunda and historic lobby ceilings and artwork
  • Restored and refinished woodwork of historic seating and judges’ benches
  • The two-story courtrooms on third floor are completely restored back to the original design. Removing a patchwork of drop ceilings, carpet and paint

Similar Projects

Back to Portfolio