Johnson County leaders propose plan to pay for new courthouse

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JOHNSON COUNTY, Kan. --Johnson County leaders want to tear down the current courthouse in Olathe and build a brand new one, and they have just agreed on a new plan to pay for it.

They built the current courthouse in 1952, and it’s been falling apart in recent years. County Commissioners had a choice to either spend millions to renovate it or they could build a new one across the street and tear the current one down. On Thursday, they chose the latter option.

Commissioners want to raise the sales tax by a quarter of a cent over the next decade to raise the $201 million they need to pay for a new courthouse and coroner’s facility, but before they can do anything, they need Johnson County voters’ approval.

Studies over the past ten years have found numerous problems with the current courthouse. There are cracks in the walls; the courtrooms are too small; inmates are walked down the halls in view of witnesses; the technology is outdated; it’s not ADA accessible; and there are safety concerns with the courthouse being so close to the street.

The current facility has been remodeled seven times already, and county officials say another remodel would cost take 13-years to complete and cost $14-million more than a new courthouse, which would take just four years to build. The plan also includes a new coroner’s facility next to the Criminal Lab on Sunset Drive because right now, there is not one in the county. The Johnson County coroner conducts autopsies in Wyandotte County.

The county held a series of public meetings in March and April and the vast majority of those who attended favored a new courthouse and coroner’s facility, paying for it with a sales tax instead of raising property taxes.