Government & Politics

What will new JOCO Courthouse look like? Here's a sneak preview

Johnson County officials unveiled the first detailed renderings Thursday of the new $193 million courthouse, calling it a structure that will project "decorum and dignity."

"People are often disoriented when they get to the courthouse," Brian Chaffee, with Denver-based Fentress Architects, told the County Commissioners. He said this new building will be designed as a "more dignified setting where people go to resolve their conflicts."

It's also designed for better safety and security and more public convenience than the existing courthouse, which has cramped and outdated courtrooms and judges' chambers. The current building prompted concerns about jail inmates being paraded through the same corridors as jurors and victims.

"This is a big project," Commissioner MIchael Ashcraft said, praising the schematic design. "It will change downtown Olathe. It will change county government in a lot of ways."

Voters in November 2016 approved a 10-year, quarter-cent sales tax increase to help fund the new courthouse, plus a $21 million medical examiner's office.

The seven-story, 150-foot-tall courthouse will be built at Kansas Avenue and Santa Fe Street, directly north of the existing courthouse and west of Olathe City Hall.

Chaffee told commissioners that it will have seven stories plus a basement. That's down from an earlier nine-story version that was deemed too massive for downtown Olathe. Public engagement sessions helped the architects improve the design.

The first two floors will be oriented particularly for the public, with the clerk's office, a help center and first appearance hearing rooms on the first floor and a large jury assembly area and large-volume courtrooms such as traffic court on the second floor. The building will have private meeting rooms for witnesses and attorneys, a feature currently lacking.

The district attorney's office will be on the third floor, with additional courtrooms on the fourth through seventh floors.

The building is intended to last 75 years and will be built primarily of glass, limestone and precast concrete. It will be about 320,000 square feet, up from 235,000 in the current building, which eventually will be torn down to make space for a public courtyard.

A block of homes to the north of the site was demolished and will eventually serve as a parking lot with 215 public spaces. A massive, 150-year-old Osage Orange tree in that block that some had feared would have to be cut down will be saved as part of the parking lot, county officials said.

In addition to Fentress Architects, the project team includes TreanorHL architects; JE Dunn Construction; CGL and Civitas, which is looking at landscaping and enhancing the public spaces around the courthouse to make them a more inviting connection to the surrounding neighborhood. The building is seen as a catalyst for future downtown Olathe development.

The project team still must work with the city of Olathe on final design approval. Groundbreaking is expected in July and the building should be completed in late 2020, with full occupancy in 2021.