Jasper County opens new courts building in Joplin

Jan. 7—With the grand opening of the new courts building in Joplin, Jasper County is at the end of a seven-year, $66.8 million investment in new structures for the county's law enforcement, courts, and jail, and in the preservation of the historic courthouse in Carthage.

County officials gathered with community and business leaders in Joplin to cut the ribbon and take tours of the new $35 million Jasper County Courts Building at 633 S. Pearl Ave.

Dozens of people gathered in the main lobby of the new building at 10 a.m. Friday to tour the building and see some of the technology that will go into improving the experience for people having to use the courts and other offices in the new building.

"It's a great day," said Western District County Commissioner Darieus Adams. "It's three years of work all finally coming together, and it's absolutely impressive and amazing and thanks to the voters for allowing it to happen. It's nice to have it done and finally let the public see how we spent their money. Hopefully we were frugal with their money, but still, it's very nice and very efficient and very safe."

Associate Judge Joe Hensley, of Jasper County Circuit Court, will be using the new facility every week. He said the building is going to change things tremendously for the courts.

"First of all, a lot of security concerns we've had in the judiciary and with the general public will be alleviated because we've got a state of the art building that's totally secure," Hensley said. "We have a way to securely move prisoners from the jail in Carthage to courtrooms without having them coming up the same stairs as the general public. That's a great benefit. It's also a state of the art building in terms of technology we've been able to incorporate so we can use a lot of the things that COVID foisted upon us like remote hearings and things like that. We're now set up to do things like that a little bit better."

Hensley said the new courts building solves some serious security concerns and replaces a building that was worn out.

"I can't tell you how many days I walked in literally with the prisoners that were going up the stairs at the same time that I'm getting ready to sentence," Hensley said. "It was not a good system. The building where I've been for the last eight years, it's always been a headache from day one for me. Things never really worked like they were supposed to. We were always just patching things together and there was not enough room for people. We had hallways that looked like a New York City subway. Now we've got big open spaces where people can kind of spread out. We've got nice bright open courtrooms that are much more conducive to the kind of trials we need to have on a daily basis. I'm not going to shed any tears when the old building comes down."

Adams said the courts building was almost spot on with its $35 million budget. Just a few little things remain to be wrapped up.

Jasper County Courts Administrator Erik Thies said some signs still need to be installed and a few video monitors put in place, but the building is ready to use on Monday, the first official day it will be open.

Hensley noted that the process of getting the new courts building built started seven years ago when the county convinced voters of the desperate need for a new juvenile justice center.

"This all started with a condemned juvenile justice building that was like a little house over there that was built in 1911 or something," Hensley said. "It was condemned. This whole thing started with us being told by the Joplin fire marshal that you can't have court or kids in this building anymore. That started the process. The building we were in at Sixth and Pearl wasn't far behind. The same issues we were having in that old juvenile building were the same issues we were having in the old courts building, and Judge Gayle Crane had the foresight at the time to look ahead and say we need to hit all these things, including the Carthage courthouse that needed some things done on the interior and exterior. So we're really happy with all that's gone in."

The new courts building was the third large building project completed in or near downtown Joplin in the past two months.

The $19 million Harry M. Cornell Arts & Entertainment Complex was completed in November, and the $25 million Dover Hill School was opened this week.

Joplin Mayor Doug Lawson said the completion of these three projects shows that Joplin is a vital, growing community with people willing to go out on a limb to make things happen.

Adams said the old courts building will be torn down in the next few weeks and that area turned into more parking for the courts building. That parking lot is the final step in completing this project.