Douglas County Commission narrows the options for Judicial and Law Enforcement Center renovations; none of them would require a tax increase

photo by: Matt Resnick | Journal-World

County Commissioners take part in a work session on Wednesday, Sept. 27, 2023, that was aimed at narrowing the options for a Judicial and Law Enforcement Center renovation project.

Douglas County leaders have now significantly narrowed down their options for renovating the Judicial and Law Enforcement Center, focusing on a set of plans that would cost between $105 million and about $120 million, would add an extra wing to the building and wouldn’t require a tax increase.

Last month, county commissioners reviewed five options for the Judicial and Law Enforcement Center that varied widely — including one that would demolish the building entirely and construct a new facility — and at that time they refused to rule out raising taxes to pay for the project. But at a work session on Wednesday, they expressed interest in a new set of four scaled-back options that wouldn’t require the county to raise taxes at all.

“We presented options that would not require a tax increase,” County Administrator Sarah Plinsky told the Journal-World. “The options have been limited and the costs have been reduced.”

The four options have more than that in common, according to the plans presented by architects with TreanorHL. All of them would add a separate wing to the south of the current structure to allow the court facilities to expand. They would also construct a separate outbuilding where the Douglas County Sheriff’s Office operations would be located. And in all but one of the options, Douglas County Emergency Management would eventually move from the main Judicial and Law Enforcement Center building into the Sheriff’s Office outbuilding.

All four options would also remodel a building at 1006 New Hampshire St. that houses several county departments, including the county’s sustainability operations, the Heritage Conservation Council and Criminal Justice Services.

While the costs might be lower, the commissioners heard at the work session that the new options were all based on one of the designs they had seen in August.

“These are variations of existing option-themes that we’ve had in the past,” Plinsky said. “I just don’t want the impression to be that we’ve now added like seven more options to the plate.”

Still, Jeff Lane, the principal architect with TreanorHL overseeing the project, said the plans have “the ability to be flexible as it relates to what can and can’t be done.” The smallest option would add 52,000 square feet of space to the main building, and the largest, which would add a third story to the existing building in addition to the new wing, would increase the building’s size by 82,000 square feet.

That latter version would be the most costly, at roughly $120 million. But it would also free up a lot more space for offices in the main building, which Plinsky said was one of the project’s goals.

“There is a significant amount of renovation that has to happen inside the existing JLE building for office needs,” Plinsky said.

Commissioner Shannon Reid said she was on board with the set of scaled-back options because “it seems to give the most variability and minimizes the disruptiveness.” And Commissioner Patrick Kelly, who called the new courthouse wing a “tower,” praised the “flow of the building” and said the current structure “does not make a lot of sense for the person who just walks in the door trying to find spaces.”

“I want to make sure that it flows well and makes sense to the public, and that we have good options if we need to expand 50 years from now,” he said.

Commissioner Karen Willey also said that the other, more different options the county had seen so far did “not get the most square-footage out of the smallest footprint.”

“The smartest move we can make with downtown space is to start building up,” she said.

Now, Lane will start fleshing out the details of the renovation plans, which likely will take until late November. At that point, he said, he would “come back to the commission with a couple different options that identify what spaces can and cannot work.”

“Time is of the essence and dollars are out there, so I don’t want to drag it along,” Lane told commissioners. “But I want to give proper time to make sure we’re going in the right direction.”

In other business, commissioners:

• Approved, in the consent agenda, a modification to a grant that reallocates $577,250 of its funds. The grant was originally awarded by the Kansas Department for Aging and Disability Services for the county’s Crisis Intervention Center.


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