With an eye toward current and future needs, Jackson County has broken ground on the Eastern Jackson County Courthouse renovation project.
The $6.8 million project will add five new courtrooms and a new elevator and will rehabilitate an existing elevator in the building at 308 W. Kansas Avenue, located roughly two blocks south and west of the Historic Truman Courthouse in Independence. The project also calls for increased security screening capacity and a new accessible entry. The work is expected to be completed by December 2015."The courthouse is important to how the community moves and how the government delivers services," Jackson County Executive Mike Sanders said at the ceremony. "The importance to people like (Prosecutor) Jean (Peters Baker) and to law enforcement can't be underestimated."
Sanders thanked the County Legislators and the Circuit Judges in attendance for utilizing savings from their budgets during the recent past so that the county could pay for the project without incurring debt or increasing taxes.
Presiding Judge Marco Roldan of the 16th Circuit Court said the additional space is badly needed. "We are basically busting at the seams," he said.
For the past few years, Roldan said, every fifth civil case and marriage-dissolution hearing filed in the eastern part of the county has been moved to the main courthouse in downtown Kansas City. That means many people who live in Lee's Summit, for instance, have had to drive and park downtown to access the courts. The renovations should put an end to that practice.
Although more people now live in Eastern Jackson County than do in Kansas City, only about one-third of the county's 26 circuit judges have been hearing cases in Independence Once the renovations are completed, Roldan said, one of the judges will be moved from downtown to Independence to hear cases there.
The Eastern Jackson County Courthouse was built in 1956, and a three-story wing was added in 1972. The building was formerly known as the Independence Courthouse Annex. The renovation contract went to Excel Constructors of Overland Park, Kansas. The Kansas City, Missouri, engineering firm Burns and McDonnell oversaw the design of the expansion.
"These are renovations that will work both financially for the county as well as long-term for the courthouse, in terms of operations," said Sanders. "If needed in the future, the county could add floors to the building."
Some work is already complete. In January, Jackson County Public Works crews began tuck-pointing the exterior of the courthouse. Tuck-pointing means restoring the mortar joints on exterior walls so a building is sealed properly and protected from water leaks. A restroom-renovation project should be completed by December.
Space for the project became available after the county moved its Assessment, Collections and Recorder of Deeds departments to the renovated Historic Truman Courthouse in September 2013.