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Frequent Questions

Courthouse - Current

The original courthouse structure still in use is now 64 years old and it’s in a state of considerable disrepair. Some of the most significant problems with the current courthouse are:

  1. Aging infrastructure, which includes problems like cracked and crumbling interior and exterior walls and corroded and cracked pipes; all extremely expensive and these repairs have been delayed to prevent further spending if a decision is made to proceed with a new courthouse;
  2. Safety and security, which includes inmates using the same hallways as jurors, victims and witnesses, and the building being too close to the street;
  3. Accessibility issues such as no wheelchair access to the jury boxes and limited accessibility for wheelchairs throughout the building;
  4. Outdated technology, which among other concerns can make showing evidence to jurors more difficult during a trial; and
  5. Inadequate courtroom and meeting space, which leads to crowded courtrooms and hallways and little to no space for attorney-client meetings, often forcing private conversations to occur in public hallways.

For a better idea of the extent of these issues, please take a look at some of the photos we have online of the condition of the current courthouse; click here to access them. 

We also have a video online which provides an overview of the concerns as well as the proposed plan for a new courthouse and coroner facility, viewable here.

It’s the cumulative effect of all of these issues combined that make building a new courthouse our most cost-effective option, rather than continuing to sink money into the existing facility. It would be extremely challenging to make all of the necessary changes to the existing building simply because it was built to accommodate the needs of the county back in 1952, and things like layout are impossible to modify to today's needs. If we move forward with the proposal to build a new courthouse, it will be cheaper than renovating and adding on to the existing structure ($182 million for a new courthouse to be built in four years versus $216 million for the existing courthouse to be renovated with an addition built on to it).

If we move forward with building a new courthouse, the BOCC is considering a plan which currently proposes that the existing courthouse be torn down. Construction of the existing courthouse was completed in 1952 and since then there have been three additions to the building, seven significant remodels and a variety of ongoing maintenance repairs. The county has invested a lot of money in the courthouse building over the years, but the original structure is now 64 years old and today it is in a state of considerable disrepair. Some of the problems are difficult, if not impossible, to properly address given that it was built for the needs of the county during the 1950s and not for today's needs.

More than 400,000 people visit the Johnson County Courthouse each year. In a recent survey of Johnson County residents, conducted by ETC in Olathe, 48% of those surveyed said they had visited the courthouse in the past five years. 

There are several reasons many courthouse studies have happened over the years. Individuals elected to serve on the Board of County Commissioners at various points during the past 15 years asked the county facilities staff to study the courthouse issue because the building has not been meeting the county’s needs for a long time. Following each of the studies, those serving on the county commission at the time of a particular study determined it best to remodel and add on to the courthouse rather than build a new facility. This was primarily because of the expense required to build a facility and the need for some type of tax increase to fund it. In addition, there were other projects and funding needs during those years that the Board of County Commissioners determined should take priority over the courthouse concerns at the time. Those included funding to support schools, improve the county’s jail, and a new crime lab.

During the recession, commissioners at the time wanted to avoid a tax increase for the courthouse and they also avoided a tax increase despite the county’s decreasing budget. Instead, they addressed $46 million in budget reductions by making numerous cuts to the county budget without increasing taxes. This included eliminating 428 full time staff positions (12% of the workforce), reducing and eliminating merit increases and spending down general fund reserves significantly. Last fall, the individuals serving on the current county commission determined it was important to look at the courthouse issues again, since the challenges with the facility remain and continue to grow.

Click here to view some of the studies that the various county commissions requested over the past 15 years. The presentations to the various commissions are also online at this same link. We also have copies of each of the studies in our county offices for anyone to review upon request. One benefit from all of these studies is that the current proposed plan is now a smaller building that is less costly. Another benefit of the studies has been the numerous operational changes that have led to improved efficiency, function and savings to the county and the courts.

Courthouse - Future

If we don’t move forward with building a new courthouse, which would cost about $182 million and take four years to build, the alternative is to spend an estimated $216 million (based on a 2009 study, which includes projected inflation) on a 13-year renovation project. One reason it would cost so much and take so long is because we’d be doing construction on an occupied building; it would have to be done in phases so the court system could continue to operate in that building while construction is going on. One of the big drawbacks to that alternative is that it doesn’t set us up well for future generations, as would the option to construct a brand new building. Another deficit of this option is that it would not solve many of the concerns of the current courthouse which include making the entire facility fully accessible and ADA compliant, reconfiguration of the building’s layout which currently requires the public and inmates to use the same hallway space or reconfiguration of the small courtrooms where jurors and defendants are in close proximity, improvements to technology which would require completely gutting parts of the facility, and concerns with the current courthouse being located so close to the street, which is a considerable security vulnerability.