Facebook Social Icon Instagram Icon Twitter Social Icon You Tube Social Icon

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 Outdated technology, which among other concerns can make showing evidence to jurors more difficult during a trial; and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. 

We'll be evaluating what can be repurposed from the current courthouse into a new courthouse as a way to preserve some of the historical aspects if possible. One historic item that will be kept is the statue of Lady Justice, which is from the original Johnson County Courthouse, built in 1892. Other items like granite, marble and unique features might somehow be utilized in a new courthouse, but will need further review and cost evaluation. We'll need to continue to utilize the current courthouse while a new courthouse is built. This will make it somewhat more challenging to use historic features from the current courthouse in the new courthouse, unless it can be done without interfering with the building’s ongoing operations. More evaluation will be done into the possibilities of this as we move forward.

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.

Should a new courthouse be constructed on the proposed site (directly north of the existing courthouse), the current parking lot directly to the west of the new courthouse site will be available to the public visiting the courthouse. There are a number of public parking lots in the downtown area and street parking, and the parking garage at the corner of Loula and Cherry would continue to serve the new courthouse.The parking study associated with the concept development for this project indicated more than 1,600 public parking spaces would be within 1,200 feet of the new courthouse. ADA parking will be provided in accordance with the law, meaning the appropriate number of ADA parking spaces will be placed in close proximity to the new courthouse building. The county and the city will continue to work together to assess and respond to parking needs in downtown Olathe associated with the construction of a new courthouse. There are around 45 secure underground parking spaces (under the proposed new building) for the District Attorney, judges, deputies, etc. are included in the project scope. 

One way it will help is to alleviate the problem the current courthouse has with inmate circulation. With the current building’s configuration there are times when inmates going into and out of courtrooms must be walked through public hallways, often near people involved with their trial, be they victims, victims’ family members, witnesses, jurors, etc. This can lead to intimidation or emotional distress for these individuals and even retraumatization of victims. Other ways building a new courthouse will improve the court system include: solving accessibility/ADA problems (many places inside and outside of courtrooms are difficult or impossible for people in wheelchairs to access and only one wheelchair at a time can use the lift up and down the stairs, making a quick emergency evacuation impossible for those individuals); providing new technology to aid in presenting evidence during trials; providing more courtrooms to alleviate the current problem of overcrowded courtrooms ; and providing space for mediation and attorney/client meetings (which today are often conducted in public hallways).

Inmates will be transported via underground tunnel, as they are now to the existing courthouse. The proposed new facility plan includes extending the existing tunnel from the northwest corner at the existing site, under Santa Fe, to the new courthouse. This is a shorter run of new tunnel (less expensive) than the alternative site considered which was the courtyard between the County Administration Building and the existing courthouse. 

If we do not 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 $215.5 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; thus the project 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 challenges with that alternative is that it doesn’t set us up for the future because the aging building will still cost more to maintain and operate than a new building (approximately $155 million more over 20 years than a new facility). Renovating and adding on to the current building also won’t address many of the accessibility/ADA concerns and safety/security issues with inmate movement in public areas. To resolve those, it would require gutting parts of the building because the current layout doesn’t allow for the needed changes. We encourage you to visit http://www.jocogov.org/cost-details for a breakdown of the $182 million (build new) and $215.5 million (renovate and add on to existing building). A six minute video at www.jocopublicsafety.org also discusses this issue.

The proposed courthouse solution is to construct a new 28-courthroom courthouse across Santa Fe Street north of the existing courthouse building and directly west of Olathe City Hall in downtown Olathe. See map below.

Map of proposed new courthouse site

If a new courthouse is built, the county will keep the property where the current courthouse is and turn that area into green space. The county has looked into the idea of selling the property where the existing courthouse is, but has determined not to do this for the following reasons. The primary reason is the tunnel that connects the Central Booking Facility to the courthouse runs under the property where the existing courthouse is and this allows officials to take inmates securely through the tunnel over to the courthouse for court appearances. Even with a new courthouse built to the north, the current tunnel will remain in the same location and simply be extended to connect to the new courthouse.

The second reason to keep the property is to provide for future growth for many decades. A strategic facilities master plan for the county addresses this in more detail online: http://www.jocogov.org/sites/default/files/documents/FAC/SFMP1-4Planning%20Criteria.pdf. The county's master plan requires the land be kept for future use in case the county's growth requires additional building space at some point in the future. That is not anticipated now, but planners don't want the county to be landlocked and not be able to plan for future growth. Please see this slide presentation on our website (slide 9) regarding the future look of downtown if the public safety sales tax passes: http://www.jocogov.org/sites/default/files/documents/CMO/County-presentation-to-community-groups-July-2016.pdf


The current courthouse is 234,000 square feet with 23 courtrooms, and the proposed new courthouse is 283,000 square feet plus a 24,000 square feet of underground parking with 28 courtrooms. The property behind the courthouse would allow the county to expand to 36 courtrooms should that be needed with ongoing growth of the county.