Every fall, different sections of the Des Moines County Courthouse start to smell a bit like a sewer. 

Rodney Bliesener, the county's maintenance supervisor, is on the hunt for this year's stench.

The smell returned in the last few weeks, this time wafting about the basement, and some offices on the third floor. The jury deliberation room on the third floor is particularly smelly at times.

"You've probably noticed we're still chasing the smelly gremlin here in the courthouse," Bliesener said. "We're still trying to find it."





It's like a smelly ghost. It just pops in and out. We'll find it. We've just got to keep trying.





Rodney Bliesener, Des Moines County maintenance supervisor


Many of the people who work at the courthouse were too polite to describe the smell on the record. Des Moines County Auditor Terri Johnson broke the silence, saying "it smells like sewer gas."

The source of the scents is difficult to track, Bliesener said, because they come and go from different areas. In years past, they've tracked the smells to suspect pipes using their noses and blueprints of the building. The smells always seem to crop up in the fall. 

When the courthouse was built in 1940, planners apparently didn't consider that smells might start escaping pipes in 2017. To deal with past odors, Bliesener and other maintenance workers busted holes through walls to find pipes fully encased in bricks. To deal with a stench in the women's restroom last year, they bored through a layer of marble and then a layer of bricks to seal off a tiny crack in a pipe.

Various panels can be seen on walls around the courthouse where workers have busted open holes to fix pipes. 

They suspect another crack in an old pipe is likely to be causing this problem, but they're not certain where the hole is. Maintenance staff are waiting out jury trials this week, and will then crack open a wall in the jury room. A pipe leads from the basement straight up through a wall in the room. 

The smell wasn't too bad Tuesday. They've figured out that so long as the boilers are running in the sub-basement, the smell dissipates. The boilers burned on Monday and Tuesday. 

Bliesener thinks its something to do with air pressure changes forcing stinky air out of the courthouse, but he isn't sure. At any rate, it isn't a long-term solution. 

"It's like a smelly ghost," Bliesener said. "It just pops in and out. We'll find it. We've just got to keep trying."