County commissioners Monday approved solicitation of bids for a $4.3 million in work on the courthouse and law center.
The work includes renovating the old jail space for offices, and adding a district courtroom and about 12,000 square feet to the Judicial & Law Enforcement Center, 111 E. 11th. It also includes renovating the Douglas County Courthouse and adding a sprinkler system.
Construction, which will begin next spring, is expected to last from 14 to 18 months, said Bob Swindler, project manager and associate vice president of Gould Evans Associates, 706 Mass., the company that designed the plans.
Money generated from a 1-cent countywide sales tax, approved in 1994, will finance the project, and the city of Lawrence will chip in $207,000 to pay for improvements to Police Department offices in the law enforcement center.
County Administrator Craig Weinaug said the project primarily will benefit law enforcement, an area in which the workload continues to grow as does the demand for employees. In the past few years, deputies have been added to the Sheriff's Department and more employees were hired for the new jail.
"Essentially with the growth we're anticipating, we'll be able to expand law enforcement so they can catch the bad guys," Weinaug said.
Currently law enforcement offices are scattered throughout the building. When construction is completed, the second floor will house the dispatch center, Lawrence Police Department, county sheriff's offices and the emergency preparedness center. Courtrooms, the district attorney's office and court trustee's office will occupy the first floor, and more courtrooms and the Court Services and Community Corrections departments will be located in the basement.
A 4,000-square-foot addition to the second floor will be sealed off until needed by law enforcement or other county offices, Weinaug said.
"We want the flexibility to use it for something else when we need it," he said.
One part of the project concerned Pam Weigand, director of Douglas County Youth Services. She said she hoped commissioners would address the inadequate lighting on the first floor hallway, where the courtrooms are located.
"You can't see who is approaching you in the court (area) until they're five feet in front of you," she said. "You feel unsafe."
Commissioner Charles Jones said the architect reviewed the lighting situation and estimated it would cost $100,000 to upgrade. County commissioners agreed to include an option in the bid for extra lights.