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New courthouse opens its doors; old courthouse awaits demolition

December 28, 2020

The old Johnson County Courthouse, above, opened in 1952 and closed at the end of 2020. The new courthouse, right, was designed to meet the county's criminal justice needs for 75 years. Both are in downtown Olathe.

Hear ye, hear ye. The new Johnson County Courthouse is in session with the New Year. Located at the northwest corner of Santa Fe Street and Kansas Avenue, the seven-story facility in downtown Olathe officially opens on Jan. 4.

A virtual celebration of the new courthouse will take place at 8:30 a.m. on Jan. 7 on Facebook Live. The facility will publicly open with health and safety guidelines, including mask wearing and social distancing in place. District court functions will operate virtually.

The new courthouse, the fourth beacon of justice in the 166-year history of Johnson County, replaces the aging, smaller and outdated facility located across Santa Fe Street at the southwest corner of the intersection. The 68-year-old, eight-story courthouse was closed at the end of December.

Following approval of a 10-year, quarter-cent, public safety sales tax in 2016 by Johnson County voters, construction of the new $193 million courthouse began in mid-July 2018. The tax funded construction of the courthouse and the county’s medical examiner facility which opened in August 2020 at the County Government Complex at 119th Street and Ridgeview Road in Olathe.

The path toward the new courthouse has been a long one, spanning almost two decades with various studies and public debate and discussion. It was time for a new courthouse because the old one had simply become less functional in many ways.

For one, the old courthouse was far too small to serve a growing population. Since 1952, the county’s population, then roughly 63,000 residents, has increased almost tenfold in size to the current estimated population of more than 620,000 residents, and the demands on the courthouse have, too.

Major concerns with the old courthouse included safety and security challenges, ADA compliance, structural/maintenance issues and lack of modern technology.

The old courthouse opened in 1952 as the main complex for Johnson County Government. The facility had two courtrooms and a jail. Besides the court system, the courthouse housed most county government departments.

Two building wings were added in 1954 and 1968 along with an eight-story tower in 1975.

Over the years, most county departments were relocated to free up vital space for a growing court system that now includes 19 district courts, four magistrate courts and the District Attorney’s Office to serve and protect a growing county population now estimated at more than 620,000 residents.

In a normal year without a pandemic, approximately 400,000 people, on average, encounter the court system for many reasons, including legal cases/issues, trials, jury duty and even to apply for a marriage license.

The new courthouse features state-of-the-art technologies and systems to serve the public and enhance court and criminal justice services. It has 28 courtrooms with almost 357,000 square feet of space to accommodate future appointments of additional judges. The facility is expected to accommodate the county’s criminal justice needs and other court services for at least 75 years.

Razing the old courthouse is scheduled to start in mid-March, ending by mid-July. The vacant plot in the Courthouse Square will be replaced by a public green space concept now under consideration and funding approval by the Board of County Commissioners heading into 2021.