Douglas County leaders sign off on scope of work for Judicial and Law Enforcement Center expansion project

photo by: Austin Hornbostel/Journal-World

Jeff Lane with TreanorHL places a three-dimensional model of the proposed Judicial and Law Enforcement Center expansion on a table during the Douglas County Commission on Wednesday, May 8, 2024.

Updated at 4:35 p.m. Thursday, May 9

The Douglas County Commission has committed to a scope of work for a project to renovate and add space at the Judicial and Law Enforcement Center and build a new public safety building near the Douglas County Jail, which comes with an estimated price tag of around $74 million and could begin construction in 2025.

At Wednesday’s County Commission meeting, commissioners voted unanimously to approve the scope of work and directed the design and construction team to proceed into the design development phase of the project. Commissioners have heard about the potential scope of the project on more than one occasion before, most recently in February, as it’s been narrowed down to a single concept.

As commissioners learned Wednesday, that work would include adding 57,000 square feet to the already more than 100,000-square-foot Judicial and Law Enforcement Center building in downtown Lawrence, plus new secure parking and holding areas.

Along with renovations and expansions at that building, the county also plans to move forward with adding a new “public safety building” near the jail serving as a headquarters for the Douglas County Sheriff’s Office, the 911 dispatch center and the county’s emergency management center.

Regarding the potential project cost, Douglas County Administrator Sarah Plinsky stressed to commissioners that it’s still a preliminary figure, and it also doesn’t include the longer-term improvements the county wants to plan for in the next 20 years or so.

“All of these numbers are estimates at this point,” Plinsky told commissioners. “We still have quite a bit of work to do. … I just want us all to be prepared that we are still very much estimating at this stage, and these are not final numbers.”

Before any renovations are done at the existing Judicial and Law Enforcement Center, a representative with the project team told commissioners that work would first focus on the new construction. Construction on the expansion is slated to begin in January 2025 and take about a year and a half to complete, and the public safety building will start construction in spring 2025 and wrap up within about a year. All told, both portions are expected to be finished by summer 2026, after which up to five phases of renovations would follow and be completed by summer 2027.

Jeff Lane with TreanorHL also told commissioners more about what the layout will look like inside the renovated Judicial and Law Enforcement Center. The Journal-World has previously reported on many of the specifics Lane described Wednesday, from court security to the building’s circulation patterns.

Commission Chair Karen Willey noted that the project has evolved as it has continued to appear before the group for further discussion.

“I really think that where it is evolving to is a really great space for meeting the needs that we set out,” Willey said. “I know it’s not the whole of the 20-year need that was known when we were looking at the price tag, but I really am diving in with a level of comfort about what it is we’re able to accomplish with what’s being put forward.”

As the Journal-World has reported, from here the project will continue its design phase with a Special Use Permit submission to the City of Lawrence on May 20. Design development — and a new cost estimate — is expected to be completed by July 12. A city planning review meeting, which Lane implied but didn’t confirm would be an appearance at the Lawrence-Douglas County Planning Commission, is slated for July 24.

In other business, commissioners:

* Unanimously approved a joint resolution with the Lawrence City Commission adopting “A Place for Everyone” as the community’s strategic plan to end chronic homelessness.

The City Commission approved the joint resolution at its last meeting Tuesday night. The plan calls for more than $267 million in estimated spending over the next five years, but both city and county leaders this week have stressed that approving the joint resolution doesn’t immediately obligate either group of commissioners to commit to that funding.

“… I hope we all listen to our fellow community members who are saying we can learn more about this, we can engage in discussions about it and try to figure out the best path forward,” Commissioner Patrick Kelly said. “But we know mostly that we need to help those who are most vulnerable in our community find housing as quick as possible.”

* During a work session, heard an update on the county’s role in adding supportive housing capacity.

As the Journal-World has reported, supportive housing is one of five focus areas outlined in “A Place for Everyone.” In the plan, the supportive housing goal area estimates $28,431,000 in spending in the next five years.

Assistant Douglas County Administrator Jill Jolicoeur briefed commissioners on various new supportive housing units that are currently in progress, as well as an effort to develop an eviction prevention program for the county.

Commissioners also heard from representatives with agencies like Tenants to Homeowners and Bert Nash Community Mental Health Center.

Editor’s note: This story has been revised to reflect the correct timeline for project completion at the Judicial and Law Enforcement Center.


Welcome to the new Our old commenting system has been replaced with Facebook Comments. There is no longer a separate username and password login step. If you are already signed into Facebook within your browser, you will be able to comment. If you do not have a Facebook account and do not wish to create one, you will not be able to comment on stories.