Graphic courtesy Johnson County Kansas

A proposed 10-year quarter cent sales tax on the Nov. 8 ballot, if approved, would build a new county courthouse and coroner’s facility. Although officials say a new courthouse would resolve handicapped accessibility problems encountered within the existing building, parking availability will be determined once the tax passes.
The design effort for a new courthouse will involve coordinating the site, building layout, parking and traffic and pedestrian traffic. If the public safety sales tax is approved, the plan is to have public meetings on the design to ensure public input is incorporated, said Sharon Watson, director of public affairs and communications for Johnson County.
The building and site have not yet been designed.
“Ensuring adequate parking is a priority for this project if it is approved,” said Joe Waters, assistant county manager. “A recent parking study indicates enough parking spaces currently exist in the downtown Olathe area to meet the needs, and as the building design and site design are completed we will have more specifics on parking, and we will work closely with the City of Olathe to reassess the parking as needed.”
According to a study completed last winter, there are currently enough parking spots in downtown Olathe.
“There are 1,675 parking spaces within a 1,200 foot radius of the proposed courthouse and in total there are 2,000 parking spaces within a 1,600 foot radius of the planned courthouse,” Watson said. “Since the plan is to replace the existing courthouse with a new building, this will bring the same amount of people to the downtown area.  Also, a minimum of 50 parking spaces are included in the project scope.“
The new 28-courtroom courthouse will be constructed north of the existing courthouse on Santa Fe and Cherry Street. Total price for both projects is approximately $201 million. The current courthouse, built in 1952, would be demolished, and the current site used as green space.
There have been discussions that the green space could be used for parking in the future if the need arises. “But since downtown parking meets the needs at this time, that is not being considered for the immediate future,” Watson said. “If parking becomes problematic, the county and city will work together to address the issue.”
There will be handicapped parking in the west lot with additional handicap parking in other locations. Currently, there are a total of 375 parking spaces within a 400 foot radius for the planned new courthouse location.
It is estimated more than 400,000 people visit the courthouse annually. How increased pedestrian traffic crossing Kansas and at the Kansas and Santa Fe intersection is not yet determined.
Also to be determined is parking or drop off points for those with mobility issues; reserved parking for members from the jury pool; parking for courthouse visitors for easy and quick access; or whether county employees will have designated spots.
An additional parking assessment will be done with Olathe if the sales tax is approved, and the project moves forward. The possibility of designating parking for patrons, staff or jurors will be worked through in the design process, understanding that shared parking is important to the success of the downtown, Watson said.
If the sales tax is approved, the county would also construct a $19 million coroner’s facility at 119th and Ridgeview in Olathe.
Currently coroner duties are performed in Wyandotte County in space rented from a private party, and the annual county corner’s budget is about $600,000.
The county currently does about 305 autopsies annually and does not have a backlog of autopsies. Timing is allocated to fit the schedule of the commercial autopsy facility.
Previously, Ed Eilert, commission chair, has said the quarter cent would raise about $30 million a year. State statute requires the revenue be shared with cities, so about $10 million of that per year would be distributed to the cities on a formula basis. Gardner would receive about $4.8 million, Spring Hill $982,000 and Edgerton $713,000, according to the county website. There is no statutory requirement on how the cities allocate the additional revenue.
According to the county’s website: the original courthouse structure still in use is now 64 years old, and it’s in a state of considerable disrepair.
Some of the most significant problems with the current courthouse are:
1. Aging infrastructure, which includes problems like cracked and crumbling interior and exterior walls and corroded and cracked pipes; all extremely expensive and these repairs have been delayed to prevent further spending if a decision is made to proceed with a new courthouse;
2. Safety and security, which includes inmates using the same hallways as jurors, victims and witnesses, and the building being too close to the street;
3. Accessibility issues such as no wheelchair access to the jury boxes and limited accessibility for wheelchairs throughout the building;
4. Outdated technology, which among other concerns can make showing evidence to jurors more difficult during a trial; and
5. Inadequate courtroom and meeting space, which leads to crowded courtrooms and hallways and little to no space for attorney-client meetings, often forcing private conversations to occur in public hallways.