Douglas County Commission meeting room in historic courthouse to receive $1.36M preservation, renovation

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The Douglas County Commission’s meeting room in the historic downtown courthouse is set for renovations to make room for two new commissioners coming to the dais.

Commissioners on Wednesday approved an estimated project budget of $1.36 million to renovate the meeting room with an emphasis on preserving the integrity of the room’s historic features.

A majority of Douglas County voters in November 2022 voted to expand the commission to five seats from three. That means the county will need to make room at the longtime three-person dais where commissioners sit.

During a presentation Wednesday by Joy Coleman of TreanorHL architecture and design firm, commissioners learned that the wooden benches where members of the public sit will each be taken out, refinished and brought back. Much to the relief of folks who have spent hours sitting on those benches during commission meetings, the updated benches will have padding.

The dais where commissioners sit will shift position, moving roughly one 90-degree counter-clockwise turn from where it’s currently located on the west wall of the room to the south wall. The dais, which currently has steps up to get to a seat, will also be made accessible by ADA standards.

August Rudisell/Lawrence Times Douglas County commissioners listen to a presentation during their Oct. 12, 2022 meeting. The room will essentially rotate 90 degrees counter-clockwise as part of renovations.
This rendering shows the layout of the Douglas County Commissioners meeting room following a renovation project. (TreanorHL rendering via Douglas County Commission meeting agenda)

Woodwork throughout the room will be restored, including the historic railing that bisects the room. The railing will be moved back to its original position running east to west rather than north to south.

The original central chandelier will be restored, following a 1913 photo, Coleman said. There will also be two sconces on the walls to match the chandelier.

The ceiling will be replaced with acoustic plaster, and there will be acoustic panels in the back of the room to help improve sound in the room.

The risers within the jury box are not historic, and they will be removed. A table will be added in their place.

The county qualifies for historic preservation tax credits estimated at about $173,000, and it will also use about $135,000 in insurance settlement money from a fire sprinkler system flood that damaged the room in October 2022. Altogether, the project estimates that the project will cost about $1,051,000 after the tax credits and settlement funds.

The county will put out a formal request for proposals for the construction work in January, and work is anticipated to be completed in fall 2024.

Commissioners will hold their regular meetings at the Douglas County Public Works building, 3755 E. 25th St., while the work is underway; however, the schedule for when that location shift will be necessary has not yet been determined.

Commissioners also:

• Approved a $60,000 contract with J.E. Dunn Construction for preconstruction services related to an expansion of the Douglas County Judicial and Law Enforcement Center.

The building across the yard from the historic courthouse houses Douglas County District Court, the district attorney’s office, the Douglas County Sheriff’s Office’s operations and more, and the county has been discussing renovating and expanding the building for years.

Commissioners held a work session to further discuss plans for the renovation. They indicated that they were in favor of option 4C or 4D in a presentation from Treanor HL Architects but they want more concrete details before they make any final decisions. (Watch the work session on YouTube.)

• Approved a 15-month, $321,032 grant agreement with the Department of Housing and Urban Development to establish permanent supportive housing for people experiencing chronic homelessness.

“This grant will serve up to 12 individuals with $108,432 in rental assistance, $187,600 for supportive services, including but not limited to a full-time program manager that will provide case management to individuals,” according to the agenda item. “Douglas County was also awarded $25,000 in this grant to support administration. A local match of $80,258 from County general fund is also included, which reflects the costs of the annual service agreement for regional homeless coordination and planning with the Kansas Statewide Homeless Coalition (KSHC).”

Assistant County Administrator Jill Jolicoeur said the county is still exploring a range of methods to move forward with the grant, and that could include hiring county staff or working with a community partner as a subrecipient to help do the work. The grant program will begin Jan. 1.

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Mackenzie Clark (she/her), reporter/founder of The Lawrence Times, can be reached at mclark (at) lawrencekstimes (dot) com. Read more of her work for the Times here. Check out her staff bio here.

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