OLATHE, Kan. — Johnson County leaders are moving forward with plans to create a new community greenspace in downtown Olathe. 

Thursday the Johnson County Board of Commissioners (BOCC) approved plans for the design, financing and maintenance of the Johnson County Square project. 

The $2 million renovation project would upgrade the existing property between the Johnson County Administration building at the Johnson County District Courthouse. 

Project costs would be evenly split between the city of Olathe and Johnson County government, with each municipality paying approximately $1 million. Once the project is complete, Johnson County would be responsible for the maintenance of the property. 

“As I look around our county in our various cities who have identified and made major public improvements to central locations, or other locations in the city, it has been a very, very positive development for those communities,” BOCC Chairman Ed Eilert said. “I think looking forward in the future this investment is going to turn out also to be a very positive investment.” 

The board voted 4-3 Thursday morning to approve a maintenance agreement with the City of Olathe, with commissioners Janeé Hanzlick, Charlotte O’Hara and Michael Ashcraft voting against the agreement. 

Hanzlick said she was comfortable with the maintenance aspect of the agreement, but wanted more community involvement in funding the county square project 

“I think the plan is wonderful and beautiful and will be an asset to the community, but I would like to see us have a plan for community investment in this project rather than just having Olathe and the county providing the money for it,” Hanzlick said. “It’s not even the amount, but it’s the idea of having community buy-in. I’d like to have more time to see a plan to get that community buy-in.” 

The board voted 4-3 to amend the 2022-2026 Capital Improvement Program (CIP) fund to support the project. 

Ashcraft said he feels the funding could be better spent on other county needs.  

“I think we have a tendency to opt to spend money just because we have it,” Ashcraft said. “I’m sure that the plaza will be nice and I’m sure it will be used. I look at that million dollars and think ‘what are we doing in terms of trying to push tax relief for people who are on fixed incomes?’ [For people] that have demands that don’t have the flexibility of ever increasing valuations and property taxes.” 

Commissioner Jeff Meyers said beyond the initial contribution from the county and the city, he anticipates additional funding will come from the community to support the project.  

“I believe that this project is going to have some continuous activity to it. That’s where I believe the additional funds from the community can be involved and will be involved. I see this as not something that’s just happening as a one-time situation for this piece of property, but that there’s going to be continuous improvement,” Meyers said.

The board voted 5-2 to approve a $196,500 no-bid contract with TreanorHL to design the second phase of the project. TreanorHL was a subcontractor under the JE Dunn when the first phase of the county square project was completed with the courthouse in 2021. 

Commissioners Ashcraft and O’Hara both voted against the contract, raising concerns about a lack of competitive bidding for the project. 

“I understand the expediency of using a firm that has done a lot of work in this area. I just have reservations about the process that was used and the cost and how it was arrived at,” Ashcraft said. 

“We should not be awarding contracts without competitive bids,” O’Hara said.  

Phase two of the project will include the design of a memorial plaza, a multipurpose stage, a playground, various art installations and a tree grove seating area.  

The BOCC also unanimously approved regulations for the new square. Once complete, the new park area will prohibit open flames and other burning materials within the square. Alcohol consumption and the sale of merchandise will also be prohibited unless it’s part of a permitted community event. 

Pet owners will be allowed to bring their dog or cat to the park, but the animal must be kept on a leash at all times. Booths, tents or other structures will be prohibited on the square unless it is part of a larger community event. Anyone who violates the code could face a fine of $50-$500 from the Johnson County sheriff. 

Work is expected to begin on the county square later this fall with an anticipated opening date in May 2023.