The Greene County Commission unveiled a proposal to renovate the former county jail for offices and courtrooms on July 29, 2022. Pictured, from left, First District Commissioner Rusty MacLachlan, Presiding Commissioner Bob Dixon and Second District Commissioner John C. Russell. (Photo by Rance Burger)

A $19 million proposal would reorganize the Greene County courthouse campus and bring more officeholders to the same part of Springfield.

The Greene County Commission unveiled its proposal to renovate what was the Greene County Jail, and a shuffling of offices that has been in the works for several years. The commission’s presentation on July 29 at the Greene County Public Safety Center on North Boonville Avenue included some renderings from N-Form Architecture that showed what a block of jail cells could look like if they were turned into courtrooms.

“I do want to emphasize that this is only conceptual,” Presiding Commissioner Bob Dixon said. “Getting into specifics and the actual dollar amounts of particular items — that’s really the next phase, as this is just conceptual.”

In previous years, the Greene County Commission kicked around a proposal to build an eight-story building on the courthouse campus, but went away from that idea. Dixon said it will be cheaper to renovate and relocate offices than it will be to build new from the foundation up, and that Greene County can still work to “deliver the vital services in a more accessible way.”

Prior to the opening of the new Greene County Sheriff’s Office and jail campus on West Division Street, the Greene County sheriff had office spaces and staffers working in five different locations. The completed jail project set off a ripple effect Dixon said the commission started preparing for in 2015.

“That freed up a lot of space across our campus, in the Judicial Courts Building, here in this building — the Public Safety Center — in the Historic Courthouse, and of course, the opening of the old jail for potential reuse,” Dixon said.

A courthouse campus analysis and plan from 2015 underwent an update in 2021. 

A rendering from N-Form Architecture shows what would be a new entryway to the Greene County Judicial Center off of North Boonville Avenue. (Image from the Greene County Commission)

The commissioners unveiled five key objectives across the campus: pave the west parking lot of the courthouse campus, meet the needs of Greene County’s officeholders, use building space efficiently, consolidate offices onto one campus, and meet a budget where all of the money will come from a general revenue building bond that has been planned for several years.

“The County is expected to issue a final bond at the end of the first quarter in 2022,” the county’s 2022 budget document reads. “This bond will consist of the estimated $25.3 million to finish the Sheriff’s Office and Jail facility and possibly another $19.9 million in campus planning projects. The repayment source of this bond was planned for in the 2017 tax resolution and by the elimination of rental payments.”

Out of the tower

Part of the proposal calls for Greene County to stop leasing office space on the 10th floor of the Cox Medical Tower, which would stop $107,000 in rental expenses per year.

“Currently, we rent four floors in that building,” Dixon said. “The prosecutor’s office takes up two floors, and they would continue to remain at the Cox tower at this time.”

The county commission would move to the second floor of the Greene County Historic Courthouse. The move would send the county’s information technology department across Boonville Avenue to the Public Safety Center.

Greene County has rented space in the tower for at least seven years, starting with the Greene County prosecuting attorney’s office, and then the Greene County Commission for about five years. It would continue to rent two floors for the prosecutor’s offices under the terms of the new proposal.

A rendering from N-Form Architecture shows the map of the Greene County courthouse campus on North Boonville Avenue in Springfield. (Image from the Greene County Commission)

Greene County Second District Commissioner John C. Russell said the commissioners looked at the possibility of creating offices for prosecuting attorneys and for state public defenders in the former jail, but that for the time being, it’s more feasible to keep those offices where they are.

“All options were on the table,” Russell said.

Greene County’s purchasing, human resources and juvenile administration departments would all be moved in the shuffle of the proposal.

Moving juvenile offices to old jail

The Greene County Juvenile Justice Center is situated on North Robberson Avenue in Springfield. (Photo by Rance Burger)

First District Commissioner Rusty MacLachlan explained the juvenile courts, juvenile courtrooms and the Greene County Youth Academy would all be under the same roof on the first floor of the former jail. In its official description, the youth academy is described as “an intensive community-based treatment program that provides educational services along with group, family, and individual counseling, life skills development, recreational opportunities and cognitive behavioral treatment.”

“It’s getting them under one roof, it gives them a secure location, it makes it easier for them to get their clients and their families in and out of the facility,” MacLachlan said.

The proposal calls for the Greene County Juvenile Justice Center to be demolished and the property to be turned into a parking lot.

“That building has some severe structural problems, and of course, we’ve had considerable flooding in the basement, and so that building would be replaced with a parking lot,” Dixon said.

Contractors are demolishing a temporary jail facility to create more parking. Some courthouse parking spaces along Boonville Avenue will be removed and turned into greenspace.

The Greene County Public Administrator would also move from the tower at Cox Medical Center North to offices in the Judicial Courts Facility on the north end of the courthouse campus.

Cell blocks would become courtrooms

A rendering from N-Form Architecture shows what a jail cell block could look like if it were renovated and converted into a courtroom. (Image from the Greene County Commission)

What used to be jail cells would be turned into courtroom space, with the specifications to be determined by Greene County’s circuit judges and their staff members. The county commission’s proposal takes the second story of the former jail and opens up a large space for new courtrooms.

“The walled off cells would provide some nice soundproofing for the courtroom,” MacLachlan said.

The commission and architects from N-Form Architecture will continue meeting with officeholders, department heads and some vendors. Architect Jennifer Wilson gave a tentative timeline of two to three years to project completion. The renovations and office relocations would be done in phases, she said. MacLachlan said the commission worked hard to maximize the square footage it was given when the new jail opened.

“We’re pretty confident with the space use, where it’s going to go, we know the need of square footage that each office needs, and we’ve accommodated that and in some cases given them more than what the bare minimum of their need is,” MacLachlan said. “Now, it’s ‘How do you chop those spaces up?’”

The same Greene County employees who oversaw the $150 million, 325,000-square-foot jail and sheriff’s office project on West Division Street are in charge of seeing the courthouse conversion proposal into its next phases.

“Internally, the same team that brought the jail in on time and under budget is that same internal team that will oversee our project here, so we have a great deal of confidence that we will have similar results, because the same team, the same process, the same principles will come into play,” MacLachlan said.

The Greene County Judicial Courts Facility sits on the north end of the courthouse campus on North Boonville Avenue in Springfield. (Photo by Rance Burger)

Rance Burger

Rance Burger covers local government for the Daily Citizen. His goal is to help people know more about what projects their government is involved in, and how their tax dollars are being spent. He is a graduate of the University of Missouri-Columbia with 15 years experience in journalism. Reach him at rburger@sgfcitizen.org or by calling 417-837-3669. Twitter: @RanceBurger More by Rance Burger