The Jackson County Downtown Courthouse will remain closed until Feb. 19 for continued repairs following a pair of a major water line breaks in the past week.
The courthouse at 415 E. 12th St., Kansas City, had already been closed Jan. 31 after a large, underground water main outside the courthouse burst, flooding the basement. When the county readied to reopen the building Monday, additional water leaks sprung, including a water line break on the sixth floor that damaged several floors on the east side. For that, the county had closed the building for this week.
The additional closures, County Executive Frank White said, should give county workers and outside contractors adequate time to make necessary repairs and some improvements to the nearly 90-year-old building without being too rushed.
“The damage to the courthouse is extensive,” White said during a news conference Thursday at the Eastern Jackson Courthouse in Independence, where he and 16th Circuit Court Presiding Judge David Byrn announced the closure. “We must do this right for the safety of our associates and our citizens.”
White said it would be “premature to guess” how much the damage ultimately will cost the county – “We're still assessing where we are,” he said – but he is confident the county's insurance will cover most of that cost.
Byrn said the court has “made every attempt to have every case heard as scheduled” during the closure, adding that he knows not all have occurred as scheduled, but a vast majority have been heard.
“Our hope and goal from the start has been for (a backlog) not to happen,” Byrn said.
Many cases have been transferred to the Riederer Criminal Justice Complex nearby in downtown Kansas City, and other cases have been moved to the Kansas City Municipal Court, Missouri Court of Appeals and the U.S. District Courthouse, as well as the Independence courthouse.
The court has attempted to post all changes on its website and at the courthouse doors, and judges' staffs and attorneys have been calling litigants, but Byrn said he empathizes if a location change causes litigants any confusion or perhaps an inability to make a scheduled hearing.
“That's absolutely something we're taking into consideration,” he said, adding that there would be “no punitive action” by the court against a litigant caught in the wash of case changes.
Right now, about 50 percent of the country courtrooms are not available, and hundreds of cases have been moved. When the downtown courthouse opens, the circuit court will regain 16 courtrooms but five will still be under some construction.
County officials said the initial water main burst led to more than 10 feet of water in the courthouse basement and thousands of pounds of mud and debris, partially or completely damaging parts of the building's plumbing and electrical systems. County staff, local agencies and county contractors worked 72 hours around the clock to get the building ready for Monday, Public Works Director Brian Gaddie said.
The next water line break caused “largely cosmetic” damage, Gaddie said – mainly water damage to ceiling tiles, carpets and furniture – “But it will take some time to bring those faces back to their previous state.”
“When you're dealing with historic buildings, you're always going to have complexities,” he said, but nothing significant.
White said a specialized architect has been hired to ensure that the repairs preserve the building's historical integrity, similar to when the Truman Historic Courthouse was renovated several years ago.
Through it all, displaced county staff have largely continued operations, having moved to county-owned or leased facilities in Kansas City and Independence. The downtown staff of the prosecutor's office has taken up temporary residence in the community room at Kansas City Police headquarters across the street.
“We really didn't miss a beat,” White said. “There's so many avenues that we can use to house people in times like this. Everybody has some place to go.”
Information will be posted each afternoon on the court's website at www.16thcircuit.org in the “Public and Legal Notices” area of the home page. Missouri case.net, the statewide judicial online database, will also show a person's case number and latest hearing date posted.
For additional information, contact:
• Civil records: 816-881-4474
• Criminal records: 816-881-4501 or 881-3141
• Probate records: 816-881-4552