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The City of Johnston was incorporated in 1969. On Sept. 8, 1969, Mayor Harold Southerwick gaveled-in the first Johnston City Council Meeting in his basement. At the time, Johnston’s population was 2,236.
While his basement worked for the first meeting, elected leaders needed to ensure residents could attend the meetings and be heard in a public space. The meetings were held at the original Lion’s Club building, located at 6501 Merle Hay Rd.In those early years, the Lion’s Club building worked well for public meetings, but it was not large enough to house City staff. The Johnston Shopping Center was home to City offices, while City Hall was located in what is now Marino’s Italian Restaurant, 5775 Merle Hay Rd.
As the City grew, so did the number of City employees. City Hall in the mid-80s was bursting at the seams. In 1986, City Hall relocated to 6221 Merle Hay Rd. This existing building, previously home to the first Hy-Vee in the metropolitan area was 15,500 square feet and had approximately 15 employees and six checkout lanes, which seemed expansive at the time. Hy-Vee had its sights set on an in-store deli. So, the store made its building available for City Hall. Since the east side of the City didn’t have sanitary sewer, a requirement for a food-service grease trap, Hy-Vee opted to build its new store on what was then the west side of the City. Its new building, which was developed by Green Meadows, had the sanitary sewer they needed.
On Dec. 12, 1984, Hy-Vee relocated to 5750 Merle Hay Rd. With Hy-Vee’s relocation, Green Meadows, Ltd. purchased and remodeled the building for use as City Hall and the City purchased the building over time through a lease-purchase agreement.
The new City Hall was bustling and ready for the opportunities that lie ahead. The building housed not only City administration staff, but also the Library and Police Department. In 1986, the population of Johnston was more than 4,000.
The original Police Department was housed in a small building on NW 62nd Avenue and NW 59th Court. Before the City was incorporated, the County Sheriff served the area residents. The Police Department had limited space in the City Hall building and quickly found it didn’t have a proper evidence room or a private interrogation room.
As the population increased, so did the space needed to run the City. In 2001, the Johnston Public Library moved to 6700 Merle Hay Rd. This new building was 26,759 square feet and would allow the Library ample room to grow. This relocation allowed more room for the Community Development Department and Police Department staff in the City Hall building.
The Johnston Police Department remained in City Hall until 2014, when it relocated to 6373 Merle Hay Rd. The new 46,000 square foot building housed Johnston Public Safety, including the Johnston-Grimes Metropolitan Fire Department. This was the first time the Fire and Police departments were under the same roof.
2014 marked a significant year, as City Administration and Community Development staff would be the only tenants in City Hall. Once the Police Department left, some areas were lightly remodeled with new paint and carpeting to allow more room for City staff. In 2018, discussions began to develop the land surrounding City Hall into a Town Center, which would include a new City Hall.
The new City Hall is near completion and will be open to the public on Monday, Oct. 12, 2020. The existing building will be torn down to make way for The Yard, a green space for community events that will include a splash pad and ice rink. “Residents have told us they want a central gathering place, a downtown that Johnston has never had. A place where people can get together to shop, eat and enjoy each other’s’ company. We listened and are making that happen,” said Mayor Paula Dierenfeld.
“The existing City Hall that was built as a grocery store has served the Johnston well for the past 34 years. With the growth of our community, as well as changes in technology and security needs, the time has come to replace it with a building that can be operated more safely and efficiently,” said Mayor Paula Dierenfeld. “The new City Hall is designed to better serve the needs of our community now and into the future as our population and city boundaries continue to grow and expand.”
With its new Town Center and City Hall, the City of Johnston is poised to deliver high-level City services to our residents and business owners for years to come. We look forward to seeing where our community is in 40 years!