Razing of old courthouse paves way for new square

The Best Times Digital Edition

August 19, 2021

When it comes to the Johnson County Courthouse, it’s out with the old, in with the new in 2021.

The new seven-story courthouse with 28 courtrooms, located at the corner of Kansas Avenue and Santa Fe Street in downtown Olathe, was completed in early January after more than two years of construction. Demolition of the old courthouse, located directly across the street to the south, began in April and was targeted for completion by the end of August.

Work to backfill the old courthouse foundation is expected to be completed by mid-September. Approximately 15,000 cubic yards of dirt removed for digging the foundation of the new courthouse was saved and stored at the New Century Air-Center.

Kyle Heltne, project manager at Johnson County Facilities Management, estimates the recycled dirt weighs approximately 33 million pounds (about 16,500 tons). It now will be used to fill the foundation hole from the old courthouse and creation of the new Johnson County Square.

In addition, much of the demolition debris from the old courthouse also is being diverted from landfills. And that’s a lot of material. According JE Dunn, leader of the design/build team for the project, including demolition, an estimated 5,500 tons (11 million pounds) of bricks, concrete, metals and other debris were amassed in the razing of the courthouse. Approximately 75% of the materials are being recycled in various ways. “These are both earth-friendly and cost-saving green practices,” Heltne said.

The vacant plot of the old courthouse has also been redesigned with a green space concept, referenced as the intermediate option, for development of the Johnson County Square. The project has been authorized with funding approval by the Board of County Commissioners (BOCC) in its role as the Public Building Commission (PBC).

The plan was recommended to the BOCC by county staff and an 11-member steering committee with public input gathered from pop up meetings, open houses, a focus group and two online surveys.

The intermediate option creates the Johnson County Square. The project features a large open, public community green area with a curved and widened walkway from the corner of Santa Fe and Cherry streets as the main entry to the square. The walkway leads to Children of the Trails sculpture and fountain located north of the county’s Administration Building.

The project includes site lighting; landscaping with shrubs, perennials, ornamental grass and sod; installing an irrigation system; and adding a tree grove at the northeast corner. A crosswalk with pedestrian signals is located at Santa Fe Street and access to the new courthouse. The Johnson County Square encompasses the Children of the Trails sculpture and fountain, dedicated in 2000.

Funding for the new courthouse and the county’s new Medical Examiner Facility, which opened last year, is from a 10-year, quarter-cent public safety sales tax approved by Johnson County voters in 2016. The J.E. Dunn design-build contract includes demolition of the old courthouse and creation of the redesigned downtown square. The project is expected to be finished in early November.

A master plan option for future development of the Johnson County Square proposes the addition of a Memorial Plaza with educational and historical information near the fountain, an open multi-use platform with stage, an art garden play area and iconic public art near the main entry.

The PBC has not authorized or funded a future option for the project.