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Transcript of JoCo on the Go podcast 09/02/2019

Announcer: [00:01] 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: [00:14] Thanks for joining us for JoCo on the Go, I'm your host Teresa Freed, a Johnson County resident and employee of Johnson County government. Today we're talking about a couple of the county's most substantial building projects, the new 28 courtroom courthouse in Olathe and also the new medical examiner facility on the Sunset Campus, also in Olathe. To get the very latest on the progress of the courthouse project. I am joined by Dan Wehmueller. Thanks for joining us, Dan.

Dan Wehmueller: [00:41] It's my pleasure. Happy to share all the exciting news about the new building.

Theresa Freed: [00:45] Tell us what your role is on this project and then also a little bit of history behind the new or the need for the new courthouse.

Dan Wehmueller: [00:52] So for my role, I work within the Facilities Management department and I am the county's project manager. That basically means I live, breathe, sleep and eat this courthouse. Certainly supported by a first-class team. But our primary role and responsibilities and to ensure that this new courthouse is built to the expectations of the county's taxpayers, that it meets the expectations of our users, both the public and the employees and that we meet all the goals that were set out, when we decided to do this courthouse. So a little history behind this, over the years almost 20 years of thinking about this new courthouse, studying this new courthouse, establishing what those needs are, you know, of course, was it made sense to renovate the existing courthouse? Does it make sense to start from scratch and build the new one, which is obviously the route we went down. And a lot of that is to do with the safety and security that the facility can provide. The ability to meet code such as accessibility standards and the ability to operate and maintain that at a reasonably efficient cost point.

Theresa Freed: [01:55] Okay. And so many projects that happen within the County require the Board of County Commissioners to support and vote on. But this one was kind of a step further with, with residents actually voting for this issue.

Dan Wehmueller: [02:08] Yeah, there was a, there was a question before the voters in November of 2016 and they did approve this. And before that, certainly a lot of effort was made by the Chairman Ed Eilert and District Attorney Steve Howe and others to aggressively campaign and make sure that the taxpayers understood the need and that this was a necessary step for the growth and future success of the County and the County's government.

Theresa Freed: [02:31] Okay. And can you talk a little bit about what that need is exactly? We've heard some of the issues were, were related to safety, so that's, that's pretty important I imagine.

Dan Wehmueller: [02:40] Yeah, it, the safety is obviously a major concern. You know, in our existing facility, what we have is a lack of separation of circulation. In a current modern courthouse, what you would have is a secure circulation for the in-custody individuals, a separate circulation for staff, a third layer of circulation for the public. At the current courthouse, all that just sort of meshed into public corridors, which did lead to some concerns and some issues about safety. So now what we have is the ability to bring an individual who might be in custody safely from our existing jail facility across the street into a holding and directly up to the courthouse through secure elevators without ever crossing paths with their accuser or other public until they're face to face in the courthouse. It's just a much more safe, secure, and a better, more modern way to handle the circulation.

Theresa Freed: [03:31] And I imagine there was quite a bit of research that went into to the development of that design. Maybe consulting with other communities and things like that.

Dan Wehmueller: [03:39] We've worked with some really great consultants along the way. And the State brought with them, to our benefit, expertise of dozens upon dozens of other courthouses that they've helped establish the program on. Establish, you know, the kind of the criteria that helped us make sure that we were actually delivering a top of the line, state of the art facility.

Theresa Freed: [04:01] Okay. And that facility is designed to last at least the next 75 years. Where do we get that, that timeframe? I mean, how does that come about? And then also I know there's some capability to even grow within the walls that are built.

Dan Wehmueller: [04:16] This is certainly a once in a generation building with a budget of this size, a building square footage that's this big. This is certainly building we want to last at least 75 years, not a hundred years or beyond. So that we want to be able to service the county's needs now, but also into the future. This is a significant step in terms of size of beyond the existing courthouse. And it does in fact allow us to grow. We have 28 courtrooms to on day one, but the ability to extend by at least eight more in the future. And what that is, how we have accomplished that is the planning of certain floors that might be occupied by office space today are still set up and ready to go to allow us to plug in courtrooms in the future. It's probably several, several years down the road, but that gives us that flexibility to shuffle spaces around and plug in and grow as we need to.

Theresa Freed: [05:09] And that's really to accommodate the county's growing population, right?

Dan Wehmueller: [05:13] The County population is obviously growing and is forecasted to continue to do so. And as that occurs, the needs for the courts will certainly adjust and grow as well. So just on August 13th, we celebrated our "topping out" ceremony, which means that we've reached the full height of the structural framing. So that was a major milestone and we certainly thank all the workers who have, who've got us there. It's been just over a year since breaking ground. So was certainly a lot of progress.

Theresa Freed: [05:43] And we recently caught up with Board of County Commissioners Chairman Ed Eilert and Judge Kelly Ryan. They were both at the "topping off" event in August. And here's what they had to say about the project.

Ed Eilert: [05:52] The work that's been done by the professional workers on this project, J E Dunn, it just a very, very positive and really phenomenal. District Attorney Steve Howe and I met with, I don't know how many different organizations all over the County asking for their support for this project. And we were enthused when the majority of the voters said, yes, we need a new courthouse for a variety of reasons. The comment that comes to me from folks who drive by on Santa Fe or Kansas Avenue said, it's amazing how they're constructing this project and the timeliness of the work. There was a lot of effort that went into the design of the building and soliciting a lot of information from the judges, from the public and from those who do business in the courthouse. So that led to weeks and weeks of design. And all of it has paid off. It's I think going to be a, a landmark for Johnson County and people will be able to conduct their business appropriately, safely. And I think everyone will benefit.

Kelly Ryan: [07:09] Amazing what can be done in 13 months from a first dig back last July and knowing in another year that they're going to be ready to start staging people to move in here. It's, it's everyone's very excited in the courthouse, just watching it go up each day. From the criminal side, certainly that when you have inmates and prisoners being moved through main hallways and literally walking by or bumping into members of the public or victim's families or court personnel, it's, it's, it's very uneasy. And what we've become used to that over the years and thought that's the only way we could do it, but this, this shows us now what, what courthouse is supposed to be like.

Theresa Freed: [07:47] Okay. So when people drive by, what are they seeing on the outside and what is happening on the inside right now?

Dan Wehmueller: [07:53] For those who are driving regularly through Olathe, you're going to see that we have reached the top of the eighth floor, what would be the roof. We have quite a bit of glazing on the exterior.. we have quite a bit of precast on the exterior. And what we're working on is trying to get this building fully enclosed by October. That means all the walls, all the exterior glazing and the roofing. At that time. That's gonna allow us to focus a little bit more on the interior. But also you'll see that large looming blue J.E. Dunn crane will come down as well. And that's going to signify that we're weather-tight and we're moving on to the interior and finishing out those scopes of work.

Theresa Freed: [08:33] Okay. And I noticed the other day that you guys were looking at different chairs for, I think, the gallery, is that right? Or the jury box. So all kinds of little details that you might not expect. What are you guys looking at for things like that?

Dan Wehmueller: [08:48] Furniture is certainly an important aspect of it and the supporting the comfort and the ease of use. And we take that as every bit as seriously as we would the construction that's got to keep out the wind cold and snow. So yeah, an aggressive evaluation process into conference chairs, conference table so that we want to make sure that what we buy is going to last for 20, 25 years as, and we buy high quality things. That means that we're efficiently using the taxpayer's dollars and we're gonna buy it once and we're gonna get it a lot of life and use out of it.

Theresa Freed: [09:19] All right, that makes perfect sense. So when again, is it that people could actually get, get a tour, see what it looks like?

Dan Wehmueller: [09:26] So we are on track for August of 2020 substantial completion and then we intend to be open and operational on the January of 2021. So still about a year and a half to go before we've reached the end of the road. But we're feeling really good about the progress and we think the County and the users are gonna be very pleased with the product.

Theresa Freed: [09:49] Okay. And just finally there's been a lot of discussion about what's going to happen with the old courthouse building and then also that space that it currently occupies. There's been discussions about you know, whether it's just green space or if it's something more substantial. So we're, we're very interested in all the feedback from residents about what they would like to see with that space. So how are we I guess what's the process for gathering that information and then what are we doing with that?

Dan Wehmueller: [10:20] Certainly when we alluded to the studies earlier that that occurred over the years, they touched upon how should we handle this existing facility, this existing asset, what should, what should become of it? So when we engage the design build team, it really was more than just focusing on the building itself. And that one block, it really was a three block master plan. We've got the parking to the North of the exit of the new facility. We've got the facility itself. And then of course, the existing courthouse structure itself. So we've, we've been planning to demolish the existing courthouse as the best, the best use of that space. And then we plan on reaching out to the public. You know, we want to make the most of this space. We want to engage everyone to say, here's an opportunity to create something very unique for the downtown area. Something that might enliven the area, something that might draw people and want to use it. So we're going to facilitate through a series of public meetings, all the, all the ideas that we can gather so that we can determine what the best use is. That's the most suitable for what is essentially a blank slate, a blank canvas that has some, some great upside, some great potential. So we're going to be looking to engage the public in a series of meetings starting in mid to late September. And then will be each month subsequent meetings at October and November as we further refine what those ideas are. So we're going to be reaching out to public throughout the County, not just Olathe, Chambers, business owners interested parties looking for face to face meetings, but also utilizing the power of social media to facilitate all those ideas and get us a real great understanding of what the space could be. So really excited about rolling that out here in the near future and getting that feedback.

Theresa Freed: [12:09 [All right. And just last question. I am sure people wonder are, where are we at on the timeline and are we on budget?

Dan Wehmueller: [12:15] Nothing but good news to report, right on schedule that we've been sharing all along that January 2021 has been our target date all along. And always great news and a lot easier to sit here and talk to you when we are on budget, which we are. So it's a pretty smooth sailing, very excited, very happy and pleased with the design/build team and everyone's efforts internally, externally. As we work to really bring it home these last still 18 months, but very excited because it should be a very acceptable project.

Theresa Freed: [12:47] Awesome. All right. Thanks so much for joining us today, Dan.

Dan Wehmueller: [12:50] My pleasure. Thank you.

Theresa Freed: [12:51] We're continuing our conversation about major building projects in the County by talking to Dr. Diane Peterson, the county's chief medical examiner and coroner. Thanks for joining us.

Diane Peterson: [13:01] Thank you for having me.

Theresa Freed: [13:03] People are probably not terribly familiar with the work you do. They've seen some detective shows and things like that and probably have some sort of idea, but can you talk a little bit more about your job?

Diane Peterson: [13:14] So my job as chief medical examiner is to investigate deaths that occur in our County. And my job is to investigate them in an independent, unbiased manner. To do that, the medical examiner's office has investigators who go out on scene and do scene investigations and get that information independently. In contrast to a coroner system where the coroner relies upon law enforcement for that information. Additionally, once we do have the ability, I will be doing the autopsies myself. Whereas in a coroner system, those autopsies get performed by different pathologists

Theresa Freed: [13:54] And I think he started right around the same time that I did for the County. So fairly recently within the last year. What's been your experience here with the County?

Diane Peterson: [14:03] My experience has been very good so far. Yes. I started January 2nd of 2019 of this year and the County is wonderful to work for. Very supportive. Very innovative. I really enjoy working for the County. It has been a busy eight months. There's been a lot going on to build the system from scratch, lots of meetings, lots of going out and meeting with agencies, law enforcement agencies, MED-ACT, fire and making those connections and kind of educating. Okay this is how the process is going to be different. This is where we're going. And then building staff as well.

Theresa Freed: [14:47] As you mentioned also building a building that's on the Sunset Campus in Olathe. What kind of work is going to be happening in that facility? And also I'm sure people who drive by are probably curious about where it's at in the building process?

Diane Peterson: [15:01] As far as the building process, it is about halfway through. Substantial completion is beginning of February and open and ready for business will be June of next year. So we're coming along with the building. I have windows now, which is exciting. So in the building, once it's all completed, we will have staff which will include forensic pathologists, myself and another, investigative staff, administrative staff, autopsy technicians as well as toxicology staff. So we're going to have in house toxicology, we will be combining with the Sheriff's office toxicology lab and able to do toxicology testing in house. We will also have high tech radiographic equipment. We have an x-ray system that is able to take a full body x-ray and about a minute and a half with a high quality image. At the end we will also have a CT scanner. So both of those can really be used to assist in what I do to figure out why a person has died.

Theresa Freed: [16:15] And I know that you recently received a grant from the state to get some of that equipment for that purpose. In one of the reasons that the grant was issued as tied to the opioid epidemic, is that right?

Diane Peterson: [16:25] Correct. Yes, so the KDHE the Kansas Department of Health and Environment had obtained a grant from the CDC for improving opiate death investigation, so what we received was money to go towards toxicology testing equipment as well as money to go towards our software database and the whole intention of the software database on KDHE's part is to have better communication when we get results, to be able to easily and quickly relay those results to them so that these deaths can be identified quickly and a policy can be made. All right. Thank you very much for joining us. Thank you for having me.

Theresa Freed: [17:11] You can also watch the progress of the courthouse construction through a live stream on the Johnson County website. You can also check out the status of some of our other major building projects including the medical examiner facility. Just log on to jocogov.org and look for county projects. Thanks for listening.

Announcer: [17:27] 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.