Former Des Moines City Councilwoman Christine Hensley introduces community leaders who called for the federal government to halt plans for a new courthouse on the downtown riverfront.

Molly Weber worked in the U.S. Courthouse in Des Moines for more than four years and acknowledges the 90-year-old building needs some upgrades, including making it handicapped accessible and more secure.

Still, the Des Moines-area attorney said, “I think there is a general view in the federal government that if the money is there, spend it. I don’t subscribe to that.”

“We have to be respectful stewards of the taxpayers’ money. In my view, we need to look at the existing courthouse and see what we can do with it,” said Weber during a news conference Monday where business and community leaders called on the U.S. General Services Administration to press pause on its plans to build a new courthouse on the site of the former Riverfront YMCA at 101 Locust St.

On Wednesday, GSA officials are scheduled to give the final approval of the $137 million project. Christine Hensley, a former Des Moines city councilwoman, called on business and community leaders and area residents to contact Iowa’s congressional delegation to voice their concerns about plans to build a new courthouse.

Hensley and a few others have toured the current courthouse at 123 E. Walnut St. and its annex to the south and say they found the buildings in good shape. 

The tour showed that a new facility is “completely unnecessary,” Hensley said. “The (existing) buildings are in perfect shape. They are beautiful. And most surprisingly, they are completely under-utilized.”

Des Moines City Councilwoman Connie Boesen also expressed concerns about the proposed facility, which she said won’t accommodate existing federal courthouse employees. “That is problematic,” she said. “We appreciate that they want to build a new courthouse. I just believe there's other ways they could utilize (taxpayers’) money.”

The current federal courthouse opened in 1929 and was updated in 1988, according to a history of the building on the GSA’s website. An annex with additional space was built in 1995 just south of the courthouse.

Last August, the GSA announced it had selected the former YMCA site to build a new federal courthouse. The GSA, in April, told the Business Record that it had put too much time and money into selecting and obtaining the site to change course.

The proposed courthouse site is along the Principal Riverwalk. Officials have long argued that taking the property off the property tax rolls would have a long-term negative impact on Des Moines, harming both economic and recreational activity in the area.

Watch our Facebook Live video on the news conference.