Theresa Freed 0:00 Downtown Olathe welcomes to its sight line the new Johnson County Courthouse, completed and featuring some major improvements. On this episode, hear from those involved in the project, find out why it was necessary and the value it brings to our community.
Announcer 0:14 Whether you live in or just love Johnson County, Kansas, JoCo on the Go has everything Johnson County. Here's what's happening and what's coming up in the community you call home.
Theresa Freed 0:28 Thanks for joining us for JoCo on the Go, I'm your host Theresa Freed, a Johnson County resident and employee of Johnson County government. This month, the county celebrated the completion of its new courthouse, we have with us some of those involved in this major project. And we'll also talk about how the county continues to provide court services largely in a virtual environment. Thanks for being here. If you can all introduce yourselves and what you do for the county. We'll go ahead and start with Joe and then go to Dan and Danny and then Katherine.
Joe Waters 0:58 Hello, my name is Joe Waters. I'm assistant county manager.
Wayne Miller 1:01 Wayne Miller, I was the county's project manager inside the Facilities department.
Danni Livingston 1:05 I'm Danni Livingston, I'm the director of planning, design and construction and executive project manager for the courthouse.
Katherine Stocks 1:12 I am Katherine Stocks, I am the court administrator. Now working out of the courthouse.
Theresa Freed 1:20 We're gonna go ahead and start with Joe. We just want to know a little bit about why the courthouse project was at all necessary and kind of how we got to this point,
Joe Waters 1:29 The courthouse was built in 1952 as I recall, then another addition in 54. An addition I believe in 68. Another one in 72, might be off a little bit by my years because there's been so many of them. In the end, there's been five or six additions to the old courthouse. It was built as a courthouse by name, but it was really built as the center and the location for all county services as many of the the traditional courts and and and centers of county government have been for hundreds of years. It has long since outlived that functionality. All of those other operations, that kind of government had been moved out. And it was really been focused as was needed on courts. But no one was really unable to functionally perform in that role. We had, it was virtually impossible to keep inmates moving down public hallways, from bumping into sometimes quite literally, they're victims, or the families of victims. And then the same, the very same issues and problems with jurors, and intermixing. With with the courts side of the world and the judges themselves. They the those are structural things within a building that can't readily with any reasonable amount of expense be resolved. We also have a building given the age, that was not really possible to make it comply literally, with the requirements of the Americans with Disabilities Act and certainly not in following the spirit of the ADA, with full availability and accessibility to persons with disabilities for all services within the building. You combine that with just the basic age and the amount of capital investment that was needed to try to make it as usable as possible. It became very clear that we would spend probably as much or nearly as much trying to make the existing building as functional as possible, not accomplish that and spend just about the same amount of money as building the new one.
Theresa Freed 4:07 And this project was was funded, obviously by taxpayers that required an extra step in in getting those funds. Can you talk a little bit about that?
Joe Waters 4:16 Yes. The public was asked and did support a public safety sales tax quarter cent for a 10 year period to fund the courthouse was the primary project but the medic Johnson County Medical Examiner facility was also included in that that opened in 2020. And then the courthouse opened just last week. So both of these projects that were promised, with that quarter cent sales tax are complete and operational.
Theresa Freed 4:51 And unlike most opening ceremonies, there was no ribbon cutting. There was no huge celebration in front of the the structure. So can you talk about how We celebrated virtually this year.
Joe Waters 5:02 Well, I think there was a whole lot of celebration amongst this team of people that you are talking to here over the last few months. But you're right. We had hoped at the onset of this project, to have the kind of major public involvement and inclusion in a ribbon cutting, as we have seen in the historic pictures of from the 50s of the last courthouse, this is for the people of this community. And we really wish that we could have done it differently. But the ongoing pandemic and not knowing really, for sure, when large groups could gather in the future, we opted to go to a virtual ribbon cutting, it was, I hope, as good as we could could make it. We, the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court was was here to speak and we so appreciated her, her presence and her words, a number of our dignitaries and key people that have been involved in making this happen. And we put a nice video together that we hope everyone goes and has a look at it is a great way to see the building and understand a little bit about it. And and then you know that that's where we are, we do hope as the building becomes fully open in the future, that people come to visit us not not just coming in for business. It will be a busy place when it reopens fully, but we're very proud of the building then wish we could have had everyone here for our ribbon cutting.
Theresa Freed 6:48 Alright, and we will have a link to the very nice video that that's a great virtual tour. We'll have a link to that in our show notes. Just to talk a little bit about the structure itself. Dan and Danni, can you talk about how this project went?
Danni Livingston 7:03 It was a design build project. It started with the taxpayers approving this in November of 20. November of 2016. Immediately following that, the county went out and hired an owners rep and also a criteria package consultant. There was a tremendous amount of time and effort put together meeting with all occupants of the building and maintenance and other parties involved associated with project the summer of 2017. We develop 100 page criteria package document that was used to hand off to a design build team. We had interviews in the fall of 2017 and hit the ground running immediately after we hired JE Dunn and TreanorHL & Fentress Architects as the design build team, and work diligently through the following years up until recently to complete the design, construct and complete the building.
Wayne Miller 8:14 And that that sales tax approval that we're discussing, you know, was November of 16. Here we are just you know, 50 months later, and we've gone from the approval of the sales tax to a fully functioning and open courthouse. We were 26 months from groundbreaking to substantial completion. So it was a fast project. It was an efficient project.
Theresa Freed 8:33 When you drive past it. It's it's a massive building. It's extremely impressive to see. Can you tell us a little bit about some of those features, maybe speaking to some of the needs that that Joe discussed?
Danni Livingston 8:47 Well, first of all, I'll start off and talk about the interior of the building. Function was the priority and responding to our project goals and and meeting the exceeding the deficiencies in the old courthouse Wayfinding was important. Accessibility is important. Circulation important associated with between inmates public and staff and also making sure that the courtrooms were designed in such a way that anyone walking in associated with staff could utilize that courtroom with all its features. So we're very proud of how operationally the building flows and and is zone for the public to visit the building and staff to work in the building. Wayne, you want to talk about some of the features?
Wayne Miller 9:45 Yeah, the at the exterior, the intent was to build something of a civic significance a modern courthouse that speaks to society that can last for 75 years. You know, this is a once in a generation project so it had to have every hour attribute that a modern building has in terms of its durability, the use of local limestone and very durable materials, the ability to be energy efficient, the ability to evolve with time, you know, this is going to last 100 years, it can't be stuck in its ways. I think from the exterior, what you see most prominently is a striking ribbon wall of limestone quarried from the Kansas Flint Hills, that I think gives it a very civic presence that is powerful. And often let you know that you're in an important place that this is a courthouse is a place where it's important and significant events take place.
Theresa Freed 10:40 All right. And I know in the virtual tour, you can see some of the technology that went into the building and just you know, things like the monitors for the jury boxes. So you can clearly see evidence and things like that. Can you talk about some of those the state of the art technology upgrades?
Wayne Miller 10:56 Well, that's certainly a project goal from the onset is to have a technologically advanced building that allows you to meet the modern needs of the core functions. And I think the last year have shown us just how dependent we can be on technology. So the idea of having universal capabilities in all the courtrooms the ability to do remote hearings, the ability to bring in a remote witness who might be an expert, to give the jurors the best opportunity to view the evidence and make an informed decision. You know, we want this to be seamless process where the technology supports, not limits what the courts can do.
Theresa Freed 11:33 All right, the courthouse is done, people are all moved in. And we still have to demolish the old courthouse and then also create this this space in place of that known as the county square. Can you talk about where we're at in that process,
Danni Livingston 11:48 This is the month of January, and we are moving fast in preparing the building to hand over to a abatement company who will come in and abate the some of the materials in the building make it safe for demolition. demolition will begin March 1, we anticipate the demolition being completed by the end of June, they're back to July. And immediately following that we will start on the improvements of the county square in front of the administration building and across the street at the courthouse. So the the square will be flanked by the new courthouse our adult detention center and our administration building. He we will be working on design at the in the next coming weeks, with the anticipation of that square being completed by November.
Theresa Freed 12:50 And I know a lot of public input went into the process to develop a design for that.Can you talk a little bit about where we landed in terms of what people can expect?
Wayne Miller 12:59 We went through an extensive public engagement process where we established a steering committee and had a series of outreach programs and meetings with the public, where we tried to gather all the information of what the public might want. And we were able to distill that into what we hope is a successful design that meets the goals of having a communal gathering place that supports the functions of the buildings around it and the future development of the area, a real draw to the city. So that's our intent is to create an open space that has amenities that people from young families to older citizens and everything in between would enjoy and would compliment the environment.
Theresa Freed 13:39 Although the the courthouse is done and it is open. Most of the services are still being provided virtually at this time, as Joe mentioned, because of the pandemic. Katherine, can you talk a little bit about kind of what that looks like right now.
Katherine Stocks 13:55 Certainly, with, like I said, with the current conditions we had hoped to on January 4, have court services being open to the public. And obviously conditions have not allowed for that, what we can focus on all the positive things that we've been able to do over the last 10 months. And then as we slowly move into phase two of our operations, which allows for in person services, again, we've conducted over 67,000 hearings. So when people ask what well, what are you doing, if the buildings open but you're not having court in the courthouse, our judges are actually able to take advantage of the technology in the new courtrooms and in their chambers to host virtual court. We had limited ability to do that in the old courthouse and a lot of judges actually were presiding from home because it was easier to set up there than in the older courtrooms. And so we are able to do everything single type of court hearing up until you get to a jury trial. And we have had a five day trial to the bench that has occurred, there have actually been a couple of bench trials in criminal cases that have occurred. Now there are, there are still services for the clerk for the Help Center for the district court trustee. The law library can do research for individuals not coming in. We hope to be open soon so that others can actually come in and there's there's still that need for in person service. But we are not stopping the work of the court. We're continuing to do as much as we can virtually.
Theresa Freed 15:43 All right. And if people have questions about the services that are available in person versus virtual, how did they reach out to you all to to get that information.
Katherine Stocks 15:51 So we try to keep our website up to date. The it is courts.jocogov.org. And we want to thank our JIMS department because we don't ask them to do a lot to update our website, it can be in a moment's notice where we have a new administrative order for the individuals that don't like reading administrative orders. We also have tried to have some pretty quick click throughs that provide information about where to go. We have a chart of every single district judge and their assistant and how to get ahold of individual district courts. If you have questions. Same with magistrates. We have links to blue jeans all over the place. That is the system that we're using for virtual court. Also, our clerk's office is available phone, email, fax, will actually be installing a Dropbox for people for Supreme Court rule that will allow people to hand deliver if you're uncomfortable sending through encrypted email but all of that information again is on courts dot joco gov.org. And if you're on the main joco website, which you probably are to find this podcast. There are links within the Joko. gov website to get to the courts information.
Theresa Freed 17:05 All right. Well, thank you and congratulations for this project. I mean it was a huge one and it's very impressive and I know the community appreciates it. Thank you all for being here.
Joe Waters 17:16 Thank you, Theresa.
Announcer 17:17 You just heard JoCo on the Go. Join us next time for more everything Johnson County. Have a topic you want to discuss? We want to hear from you. Follow us on Facebook and Twitter at JoCoGov. For more on this podcast visit jocogov.org/podcast. Thanks for listening.