Archive for Thursday, March 17, 2016

Johnson County seeking input on new courthouse, coroners facility

March 17, 2016

Johnson County is seeking public input as it decides the future of the Johnson County Courthouse and a new coroner facility, as well as how it will fund the new project using tax dollars.

The current Johnson County Courthouse in downtown Olathe has housed the Tenth District Court of Kansas for more than half a century.

The existing facility opened in 1952 and has gone through three additions and at least seven significant remodeling projects through the years, but continues to experience a number of challenges. The county says the old courthouse building has some safety and accessibility concerns that need addressing.

The building is too close to the street compared to other courthouses, many of which have been modified since the Oklahoma City bombing in 1994, and its layout results in inmates, jurors, witnesses and victims using the same public space. The building also lacks ADA accessibility in some areas and needs updates to be in compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act. Additionally, there are problems with overcrowding in courtrooms and outdated technology infrastructure.

Four upcoming public meetings in March and April will provide opportunities for the public to learn more about a new Johnson County Courthouse and coroner facility, as well as provide feedback.

The Johnson County Board of County Commissioners is considering a new 28-courtroom structure located across the street from the current location on Santa Fe and Cherry Street in downtown Olathe, and a new coroner facility near the county’s Criminalistics Laboratory at 119th and Ridgeview in Olathe. The board may bring these projects to a public vote in November.

The public meetings will make county commissioners and professional staff available to answer questions about the courthouse. Johnson County Sheriff Frank Denning or Undersheriff Kevin Cavanaugh will be available to answer questions on the coroner facility.

Experts, consultants and in-house county staff have analyzed more than 11 sites and 32 courthouse options since 2001.

Johnson County does not have a coroner facility, and all autopsies for the county are conducted at Frontier Forensics Midwest LLC in Kansas City, Kan. The national average for the number of autopsies in a county of a comparable size is 445 a year; however, current capacity only allows for 305 autopsies a year for the Johnson County population. In addition to increasing the number of annual autopsies, a new facility would provide real-time data reporting for epidemics and crime, resulting in opportunities for quicker county response to potential public health issues and emerging crime trends.

Each meeting will present the same material and include several information booths, a 20-minute presentation on the new courthouse and the opportunity for attendees to take a quick survey to provide feedback on the information presented.

All meetings are from 6 to 7:30 p.m. and will be held at these locations:

• Thursday, March 17, Johnson County Northeast Office, 6000 Lamar Ave. No. 200, Mission

• Monday, April 4, Hilltop Learning Center, 7700 W. 143rd St., Overland Park

• Thursday, April 7, Thompson Barn, 11184 Lackman Road, Lenexa

• Monday, April 11, Shawnee Town Hall, 11501 W 57th St., Shawnee

Funding options being considered by the Board of County Commissioners for the courthouse and coroner facility include a quarter-cent sales tax for 10 years, an eighth-cent sales tax plus a property tax increase for 10 years, or a property tax increase for 20 years.

In addition to the upcoming meetings, more information on the new courthouse and coroner facility is available at www.jocogov.org/courthouse.

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