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Journal correspondent

SPIRIT LAKE, Iowa - It stands as a stunning architectural symbol of glass, stone and brick and the gateway to the heart of this northwest Iowa town in the Iowa Great Lakes Region.

Poised proudly at the juncture of Iowa Highway 9 and Hill Avenue in Spirit Lake, the new Dickinson County Courthouse - originally considered an implausible dream and then delayed by countless construction challenges - is now fully functional and awaiting a grand opening celebration this summer.

Once the electorate approved the referendum to construct the $14.9 million project in 2003 after three previous bond issues had failed, the new five-member Dickinson County Board of Supervisors made the project its top priority. Little did they know it would take five years before the last of the county departments would take up residency in the building.

The sparkling structure is the first new courthouse constructed in Iowa in more than 30 years. Built in two phases to keep the project under budget, the western half of the building was built first. Several county departments were then relocated into the new structure before the old 1893 courthouse was razed in 2006.

Phase II, or the eastern half of the courthouse, was constructed over the next two years, with seemingly endless delays caused mostly by weather, workforce shortages and postponements in the shipping of construction materials.

Finally, the last of the county departments began moving in a year ago, but the grand opening ceremony, originally slated for 2006, had to be delayed until this summer because landscaping and construction punch list items remained incomplete.

The wait, however frustrating at times, was worth it.

"It#,s a magnificent facility," said Supervisor Paul Johnson. "The final product, though slow in reaching conclusion, is something the entire county can be proud of."

Architecturally designed by RDG Bussard Dikas of Des Moines and constructed by McHan Construction Inc. of Sioux City, the two-story, 72,000-square foot facility houses the sheriff's office and jail operations, court system and all county departments and services under one roof for the first time in more than 50 years.

"The new courthouse is truly a one-stop shopping center," said Johnson.

Given the delays and escalating prices of construction materials, the watchdog supervisors - who vowed to keep the project under budget - maintained fiscal oversight to the end.

"The project came in around $300,000 under budget," said Johnson with a sigh of relief. "As a board, my colleagues and I were committed to bringing the construction to fruition without overspending the taxpayers' money and we were successful. Future generations will look back on this project with a lot of pride."

A $600,000 maintenance fund also has been established to ensure the integrity of the projected 100-year life of the courthouse.

A commemorative 62-foot tall tower and stone monuments grace the courthouse exterior in Veterans Memorial Plaza in the northeast quadrant. On holidays, 240 U.S. flags - each representing a person from Dickinson County who sacrificed his or her life in defense of the country - will fly from flag stations throughout the courthouse square.

A grand opening celebration is scheduled June 15 on the courthouse grounds with a slate of official speakers and dedication and ribbon cutting ceremonies. The Iowa National Guard will stage a flyover, a food service center will be provided by Iowa Beef and Pork Producers and open tours of the courthouse will be available to the public. A time capsule will be included in the cornerstone laying ceremony.

The grand opening events will mark five years since former Congressman and lakes area philanthropist Berkley Bedell gave the keynote address at the groundbreaking ceremony in the summer of 2004.

"I believe the construction of this new county courthouse will have a profound influence on the future of Dickinson County and the future of all the generations that follow us," Bedell said at the time to a large and enthusiastic crowd of state, county and city dignitaries.

He sticks to those words today.

Key features of the new courthouse

-State-of-the-art jail system and 911 communications center

-Three courtrooms with judge and prisoner security features

-Low maintenance, energy efficient design with electric generator system

-Community/supervisors room with capacity for audience of 100 plus

-More than 50 security cameras to monitor both the interior and the exterior

-Decorative terrazzo floor medallions recognizing county townships and lakes

-Five-day-a-week driver's license and passport photo service center

-Expanded parking lot for public and staff

-Modern IT services in all county departments

-Emergency tornado shelter

-Innovative expansion design to allow for future growth

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