Judicial and Law Enforcement Center remodeling project could more than double the current square footage, but numbers are subject to change

photo by: Chris Conde/Journal-World

The Douglas County Judicial and Law Enforcement Center is pictured in March of 2022. The center houses the Douglas County District Court and other county services.

Early design work for Douglas County’s renovation and remodel project at the Judicial and Law Enforcement Center is well underway, and the eventual plans could more than double the building’s current square footage.

The Douglas County Commission learned more about what direction the project could take during a work session on Wednesday. It’s part of the county’s ongoing campaign to revise its master plan document for its departments and facilities in the downtown Lawrence area.

At Wednesday’s meeting, Jeff Lane, a principal architect with TreanorHL who’s managing the project, walked commissioners through the design principles the firm is aiming to incorporate once the time comes to begin construction. But Lane was also clear in his message that there’s still even more design work ahead before the county will get a road map for future construction, and that means there’s plenty on the table that’s subject to change.

“We are in process, I want to make sure (that is clear), because you’re going to see some numbers as it relates to space in that program, and because we have been continuing to meet with users and everyone else, that number’s going to continue to fluctuate,” Lane said. “But I wanted to at least bring where we’re at today to you so you could see that and understand it a little bit.”

For now, though, the preliminary numbers are pointing to a substantial overhaul of the building.

In Lane’s presentation, the Judicial and Law Enforcement Center’s current departmental gross square footage — in architectural terms, the total room-by-room dimensions of a building, sometimes referred to as “useable square footage” — is around 75,500 square feet. But the need, Lane said, could be for almost 134,000 square feet of space. Both numbers are even higher when considering “building gross square footage,” which in courthouses includes spaces like additional private corridors and other areas designed to accommodate security and circulation requirements.

Those numbers are based on department staff numbers and meetings with department heads intended to capture their space needs.

A lot of the possible new space could be used for courtrooms. Lane noted in his presentation that in newly constructed courthouses, the size of a typical courtroom can be anywhere from 12,000 to 15,000 square feet. For the current building’s nine courtrooms, however, the average size is just under 7,000 square feet.

The new spaces in the building could be what Lane called “hybrid” courtrooms, which can include elements like moveable furniture and integrated technology for participants to watch online. He said spaces like that would allow alternative courts — like the drug treatment court or behavioral health court — to move away from a traditional model where a judge is stationed at a dais away from participants. Instead, he said, judges could move around the courtroom and engage with participants in different ways.

photo by: Douglas County

This presentation slide shown during a Douglas County Commission work session Wednesday, May 17, 2023 shows a couple examples of hybrid courtroom models. The county is in the early design stages of a project to renovate and remodel the Judicial and Law Enforcement Center.

On top of that, Lane said courthouses in general are changing, and people aren’t just coming to them to attend a hearing. They now often include elements like the Douglas County District Court’s new Legal Self-Help Office.

The Douglas County District Court’s new Legal Self-Help Office opened at the beginning of May. The office is located in the Judicial and Law Enforcement Center, 111 E. Eleventh St., just around the corner from the court security screening area upon entering the building.

“The idea today with courts, as you think about it, is not just we’re going in, we do court and we leave,” Lane said. “There’s so many other activities that happen within a courthouse, whether that’s marriage licenses, whether that’s coming in and doing research … Court is drastically changing as you think about those things.”

Lane told commissioners the next steps for TreanorHL will be to continue meeting with departments that operate out of the Judicial and Law Enforcement Center during June and early July, and then roll out a preliminary draft of their design report by the end of July. That report will cover much of the information commissioners were briefed on this week but in a “bigger form,” Lane said, plus elements like comparisons to other counties in Kansas.

The firm is also in the process of selecting a construction manager for the project, Douglas County Administrator Sarah Plinsky said. That individual will help conduct estimates for the project, Plinsky added, and county staff should be returning to commissioners to ask them to approve a contract in the coming weeks.


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