Joco 913

First step taken toward Johnson County Courthouse construction

The old Johnson County Courthouse opened in Olathe in 1952.
The old Johnson County Courthouse opened in Olathe in 1952. The Kansas City Star

The reconfiguration of Olathe’s courthouse square began June 1, as Johnson County deeded over one of its office buildings to the city — a first step to get ready for courthouse construction.

The ownership transfer of the county’s vacated Centennial Building at 139 S. Kansas Ave. to the city is necessary because when construction begins, employees at the city’s information technology office won’t have a place to work. That office, at 100 West Santa Fe St., is one of the buildings on the construction site that will have to be torn down.

The IT workers will move into the Centennial Building. County employees in that building already have been relocated.

The new courthouse will be built on land directly across Santa Fe Street to the north of the existing Johnson County Courthouse. Aside from the city building, the county is in negotiations to buy two homes and a commercial building on the site

County commissioners also reviewed the design and building plan timeline last week during a presentation by project consultants.

Construction of the new courthouse is a complex project that is expected to take four years. Consultants and county officials are just getting the design criteria phase underway — a process that involves interviews of various department employees to get as many specifics as possible before a request is put out for a contractor. The consultants promised an “aggressive” schedule that will be done by late this year.

Groundbreaking is expected in mid-2018 with a ribbon cutting ceremony in 2021. The existing courthouse won’t be demolished until the new one is up and running.

Dan Musser, the “owner’s representative” for the project, called the courthouse, “one of the most important projects in the greater metro area now,” and said the interest among architects and builders is high and the response should be competitive.

“We believe this can be a real demonstration project for county courthouses across the country,” Musser said. “It will be a great opportunity to solve the county’s problems and space needs but also to look to the future and demonstrate to other jurisdictions the right way to do things.”

The county will build the courthouse to be resource efficient and match the LEED specifications, said county facilities director Brad Reinhardt. But officials don’t plan to seek LEED certification, he said. The commission has questioned the need for certification of buildings in the past because it can add an extra layer of cost.

The new courthouse will be nine floors but specifics of the layout are still in the planning stage. The first couple of levels may feature a help center to orient visitors.

“The average citizen in Johnson County comes to the courthouse once or twice in a lifetime, but we want that to be an efficient and effective experience,” said Steve Carter of CGL Companies, a consultant specializing in courthouses.

Voters approved a quarter-cent county-wide sales tax increase in November to pay for the new courthouse and an autopsy lab to be built at another location. The lab was not a part of the discussions last week.

The courthouse will be 283,000 square feet and have 28 courtrooms with the space configured to allow for expansion to 36 courtrooms in the future. The budget for the courthouse is $182 million.