New Linn County Public Health building named to honor late doctor

The new OPN-designed Linn County Public Health and Child & Youth Development Services building will be named for the late, much-beloved Dr. Percy Harris and his wife and Lileah Harris in recognition of their lifetime of dedication and service to health and education in Linn County.  The new facility, located in southeast Cedar Rapids just beyond downtown and outside of the NewBohemia, Czech and medical districts, will be called the Dr. Percy and Lileah Harris building

Design of the approximately 63,000-square-foot building is nearing completion with construction set to begin this year and completed in 2018.

“This is a big win for the community,” said Linn County Supervisor Stacey Walker at the board of supervisors May 23 meeting, during which the supervisors unanimously approved the name. “Dr. Harris and his wife Lileah were not only trailblazers for the causes of civil and human rights, but they were model citizens, and taught us all so much about our shared humanity.”

According to the Corridor Business Journal, when the couple moved to Cedar Rapids in 1957 for an internships at St. Luke’s Hospital,  Dr. Harris was the first African-American physician in Cedar Rapids. He served as Linn County Medical Examiner for nearly 40 years, was president of the Cedar Rapids chapter of the NAACP, chairman of the board of directors of the Jane Boyd Community House, a member of the St. Luke’s Hospital Board of Directors and  sat on the the Iowa Board of Regents.

Lileah Harris was a pianist, active church member and an advocate for lifelong learning and education. She earned a bachelor’s degree in Russian from the University of Iowa at the age of 62 and served leadership roles for the NAACP,  Cedar Rapids Human Rights Commission and  board of directors of the Cedar Rapids Symphony Guild.

Dr. Percy Harris died in January 2017; Lileah died in 2014. Married for 63 years, they had 12 children.

The estimated $20 million, 63,000-square-foot building is meant to be much more than a space for county offices, Darrin Gage, Linn County director of policy and administration, told The Gazette.

“From the start, one of the primary focuses of the building was to be a community asset,” Gage said.

David Sorg, principal with OPN Architects, said that was something taken to heart as the building was designed.

To get a feel for the community needs and desires, Sorg said OPN held several neighborhood meetings to gather input for the building.

Designed to have a minimal impact on existing houses and structures, the building also will include a playground, basketball courts and green space. The building’s gymnasium also will be open to the public.

In addition, the building, which is aiming for LEED Gold certification, will include sustainable features like natural lighting elements, green roofs and permeable pavers.

“It’s a building that is truly inspired by it’s use,” Sorg said. “It’s a unique project, it’s been very community driven and mission driven.”


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