JoCo on the Go Podcast: New Johnson County Square Ribbon Cutting

On JoCo on the Go, episode #116, the wait is finally over! On Dec. 9, Johnson County will host a ribbon cutting celebration of the Johnson County Square which is the green space that replaces the old courthouse in Downtown Olathe. Hear the history of the square and how your feedback helped the design plans of the new space. Plus, learn about the impressive feature that is already installed in the square that was made possible by the local rotary.

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Time Subject
00:24 Introduction
01:05 Meet this week's guests
04:35 Where is the new space?
07:05 How was the space designed?
09:46 The history of the square and its future
13:39 When will the ribbon-cutting happen?

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Relevant links:

Johnson County Square Project.


Theresa Freed 00:00

The much-anticipated Johnson County Square is about to be unveiled. On this episode hear how the green space that replaces the old courthouse is coming together and when you can come for a visit.

Announcer 00:10

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 00:24

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. On December 9, Johnson County will host a ribbon-cutting celebration of the Johnson County square. It's the greenspace that replaces the old courthouse in downtown Olathe. After receiving a lot of great feedback, the design plans are coming to life and include an impressive gift from the local Rotary. Here to talk more about that is Pat O'Donnell with the Rotary. We also have Kyle Heltne with Johnson County facilities division, and Bob Courtney with the Olathe Historical Society to offer a history lesson on that space. Thank you all for being here. Well, first off, if you all can just tell us a little bit about your roles.

Kyle Heltne 01:05

Yeah, I will go ahead and start off. So as you mentioned, my name is Kyle Heltne, I'm a project manager in our facilities division here at the county. And my primary role in this project was overall project management, from start to finish of the Johnson County square. So as you mentioned, that included the demolition of the old courthouse and the redevelopment of the new green space out there now.

Theresa Freed 01:33

All right, and Bob, if you want to talk about your role.

Bob Courtney 01:37

Well as I’ve been involved in the Olathe Historical Society, I've been doing some of the research clear back to the founding of Olathe in 1857. When Dr. Barton founded the Olathe, towns at that time, most of the time, were built around an open area square, and it was called the public square. It did not have any buildings on it. But the storefronts were built in a square around the public square and face it in the public square was used for public meetings, announcements, political rallies, picnics, celebrations, all of those kinds of things. The only first building that was ever built on the public square in Olathe was an engine house for a fire department equipment. Since most of the buildings at that time were built out of wood. It was centrally located. So if there ever was a problem, there would be a quick response with the equipment and the volunteers. It wasn't until quite a bit later, that the courthouse in 1897, was built in the courthouse in the public square. And then it became a courthouse where that was the first courthouse. It was replaced in 1952, by the one that was just torn down.

Theresa Freed 03:08

All right, that's a great background. And we will we'll dig into that a little bit more here in just a moment. And then Pat, can you talk about your role?

Pat O'Donnell 03:15

Well, yes, please do. At the time, the county was starting the planning and visioning for what is becoming the county square, I was president of the Olathe Rotary Club. And we talked to the district we talked in our club, and decided that we needed to get involved somehow and give back to the county. And in dealing with Kyle and Brad Reinhardt. In talking to some of the commissioners, it would was decided that rotary could be kind of a test organization to develop a process for donations from civic organizations, and to come up with an agreement between the organization's donating and the county. We worked on that we talked to our rotary district, and was decided that we would work to get all 13 rotary clubs in the county to work together. And that involves about 600 Rotarians, 13 clubs, and we were able to raise $33,000 to purchase and support the planting of the trees in the new county square.

Theresa Freed 04:35

That's terrific. And it's kind of impressive to see that this is a place that's intended to be for the community for residents here, but it's also kind of being built by the community as well. And so that's really neat collaboration. And again, we'll talk a little bit more about that too, in just a moment. But for those who aren't familiar with the space, do you want to talk a little bit about what this space is?

Kyle Heltne 04:57

So the Johnson County square is located directly north of the county administration building and travels north to Santa Fe Street, which is on the opposite side of Santa Fe Street is where the new courthouse is located. So it is in that area and directly north of the Admin Building is the current space we're discussing.

Theresa Freed 05:18

And so there was a lot of discussion early on when the courthouse was still still being built about what this space would look like and what it would be intended for. And it ultimately is turning into a green space, right, and it's much like a park. So can you talk a little bit about how that came to be

Kyle Heltne 05:37

the the development of the Johnson County Square was part of the larger project that included the Johnson County, the new Johnson County Courthouse, and then the removal or demolition of the old courthouse. So these were two very large projects or milestones, if you want to call them that needed to be completed before work could start on the new Johnson County square. So kind of taking a couple steps. I'll take a couple of steps back here. And so first, being, you know, the construction of the new Johnson County Courthouse, which was completed in January of this year. And this milestone, the completion of this milestone allowed for the demolition of the old courthouse, which was completed in approximately August around August, every was August 25, is when the last walls came down on the old, old courthouse. So with both of these projects completed or milestones passed, the expansion and the redevelopment of the square was able to take place.

Theresa Freed 06:39

Gotcha. And it looks very different. I know, you know, people who walk in that area, often, just the transformation over the last year is pretty incredible. I know a lot of people sat outside and watched the walls come down of the old courthouse. And I think people are really excited to see what's what's going to be happening with this space. And so can you talk a little bit about the design concept? What how did that develop and what's going in there.

Kyle Heltne 07:04

Throughout the design process, or at the beginning of the design process, there was a large community engagement that took place, there was a steering committee that was put together, there were multiple pop up meetings, surveys that went out to the public to really get a feel for what the public wanted to see in this space. And what that led to is what you will see today, when would one would come out there now, you would see this vast green space, which we are calling the community green with a large walkway that traverses across the space from the community or from the admin building to the new Johnson County Courthouse. And so it kind of is a link between those two county buildings in downtown Olathe.

Theresa Freed 07:50

Alright. And so the Rotary's interest in contributing to this space, can you talk about what that contribution is? Can you talk about the kinds of trees that are going in there and what that looks like?

Kyle Heltne 08:01

The space that we're referencing here is located in the north east corner of the square, and we're recreated as the tree grows. And so Pat, I'll let you talk a little bit more on the details of the trees and the Rotary’s interest in this space.

Pat O'Donnell 08:16

Alright, Thanks, Kyle. As I understand it, the the trees are John Pair Maples, and the rest Lindens and the Lindens, as I understand it, are also pollinators which is important to Rotary. The environment is one a Rotary International key effort. And just a little aside here, the Rotary clubs in the county have had other tree plantings. The Olathe club planted over 50 trees on the Medical Center at Olathe Medical Center campus. The Lenexa club has trees planted along the walking trail at Cedar Station Park and the Leawood club has planted over 60 trees at Ironwoods Park. So environmental concerns and projects are very much on the top of the list for Rotary clubs.

Theresa Freed 09:12

That's terrific. And it's one of those things where, you know, they probably start fairly small, but over the years, as they grow, people will just continue to get to enjoy that contribution. So that's pretty tremendous.

Pat O'Donnell 09:24

And I think while it may not show up at the ribbon cutting these 33 trees will be beautiful in the spring and coming years and the Rotary Clubs are already talking about planning some type of gathering in the spring or summer of next year.

Theresa Freed 09:46

That's terrific. Well, we all look forward to that, of course. So, you know, in addition to honoring that space, environmentally, and you know, just the design concept and honoring the feedback of the residents who who We'll hopefully enjoy that space. We also want to recognize the history of that space. And so Bob, you touched on this a little bit at the beginning. But there's there's some pretty impressive connections to the past and some notable names associated with that, that area. So can you talk a little bit more about that?

Bob Courtney 10:16

Oh, yes, and some of the research I've been able to do. I'm a former employee with the Olathe School District, and also on the Olathe Historic Preservation Board. And from time to time, I've had people contact me about George Washington Carver, world famous scientist for nature, environment and botany plants. They've asked me where he attended school in Olathe, I was able to research and a ledger book that I have. It's the clerk's record of the school board minutes started in 1870. We know that George Washington Carver was in Olathe about 1879 1880, he would have been a young teenage boy at that time. According to the school board that records the school district would, from time to time lease or rent space in store fronts for colored schools. And that's their terminology from 1870. And at that particular time that George Washington Carver was here, the colored school at that time was on Kansas Avenue, west of the square. And in an interview with one of his classmates, that was done in 1950, his classmate said, George and I would go across the street into the public square. And that was our playground. He said, since we were in a rented storefront, there is no playground there. And so the public square became their playground and they'd go over there and play marbles. And while they were there, George would be looking at the foliage, the trees, the leaves, everything that was there until the bell rang, and they would run across the street, which would be Kansas Avenue, and go to their school. What's there right now is the the county jail where approximately their school was going to be we are hoping that some designation could be done historically. One of the county commissioners was interested in naming the if there's a playground there, the George Washington Carver playground for for children.

Theresa Freed 12:44

Alright, and that brings up a good point, Kyle, if you can talk about what future plans are for the space.

Kyle Heltne 12:49

Yeah, so as part of the designing for this square, there was a master plan that was developed, that identify some potential elements that could be added in the future, to the square. And one of those as, as Bob mentioned, is a memorial plaza area, an open multi use platform, or an art garden or play area, a space for iconic art, I think what's very interesting about this first phase, which is we've been calling it the intermediate phase of the Johnson County square is that it creates a great canvas to grow upon with the large community greenspace that's out there. And the large walkway that connects the two buildings, it is a great place where we can build upon in future years.

Theresa Freed 13:39

All right, that sounds good. And we look forward to the future developments as well. But the the event that's coming up is on December 9, and as we mentioned, a ribbon cutting is going to take place in that area to kind of officially open it up to the public. And although it's going to be a public event, there is going to be limited seating in that that area. So we invite the public to watch virtually and they can do so on our Facebook page, Facebook Live, which was at JoCoGov. They can also watch directly on our website. We'll have the video embedded on this special page there too. So just go to And we'll have a link right there on the homepage when the event is live. And that's going to happen at one o'clock. So Kyle, can you tell us what people can expect out of that event?

Kyle Heltne 14:24

Yeah, well, hopefully nice weather is hopefully we're still nice weather when we hit December 9, but this event, as you mentioned, will memorialize the opening of the green space. At this event you will hear from Rotary Club members speaking to their donation and to their cause. You will also hear from our construction trade partners a little bit on you know their involvement, as they have been a partner with us through the construction of the new courthouse demolition of the old courthouse and now the opening of this Where, and then we also will have a component where the landscape architect from Landworks design is going to give a talking point on the community involvement and how that said that design and looking to the future of the design of that space.

Theresa Freed 15:18

Alright, terrific. And we certainly look forward to that event. It's only a half hour so if you happen to be at home or at work and you want to check it out, people can do so online. And then of course, stop by the space afterwards officially open, check it out, and and just enjoy it. And hopefully, again, yes, you said we have some nice weather. Hopefully we get at least a few days here in December where it's over 60 degrees and people can sit there and enjoy the area. So just to learn more about the space, and to watch the live video or recording after the fact you can go to that's Joco square. Well, thank you all for being here today. I appreciate all the information, the history and the plans and obviously the contribution from the community to make this space a wonderful place for people to visit for years to come. And thank you for listening.

Announcer 16:09

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 Thanks for listening.

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