CARTHAGE, Mo. — Several years ago, Jimmie Lynch stood on the third floor of the Jasper County Courthouse in Carthage and got married.
Now he’s back in almost the same spot as a journeyman carpenter with Crossland Construction, but that spot looks very different, with the walls and dropped ceiling stripped out and the debris from construction strewn about.
“I really love it when we peel back the layers of past remodels,” Lynch said last week. “It’s the beauty and craftsmanship of the way things used to be. You can see it in these walls. It’s been remodeled several times over the years. You can tell by the general materials that were used and the style it was done in what era it was made.”
Lynch and dozens of other workers have been stripping out walls and other materials for several weeks as they work on renovating the second and third floors of the historic courthouse in Carthage.
It’s the least expensive of three projects, totaling about $50 million, ongoing or about to start in Carthage and Joplin thanks to a voter-approved extension of a quarter-cent, countywide sales tax.
“I always try to say this: Thank you to the voters who allowed us to restore this gem and continue to make improvements across the county,” said Eastern District Commissioner Darieus Adams.
Adams said the county is spending $4.3 million to renovate the second and third floors to maintain the 126-year-old Jasper County Courthouse on the Carthage square as a functioning courthouse.
This work follows a $3 million project wrapped up in 2016 to clean and power-wash the limestone exterior of the building and drill dozens of wells on the courthouse lawn for a geothermal heating and air conditioning system.
“If you look at other counties, you can see, when they moved the judicial part out of their old courthouses, the buildings became nothing more than a museum, and we do not want that to happen to this one here,” Adams said. “To me, the work on the Carthage courthouse is recommitting to the fact that this is important. We want to save it in perpetuity. It means a lot to a lot of people, and our hope is this will set us up for the next 50 years, and it’s all because of the voters, that they cared enough to allow us to do this. That’s huge; it’s monumental.”
Adams said the courthouse renovation will add a fourth courtroom to the building on the second floor, and improve the functionality of the three courtrooms on the third floor and the offices of the Jasper County Prosecutor’s Office and County Assessor’s Office on both floors.
Adams said the fourth courtroom was in response to judges’ requests for space to hold additional court hearings in Carthage.
The project is expected to be completed in May 2021.
Joplin courts building
Adams said the county expects to award bids for the most expensive project approved by voters in 2019, a new courts building in Joplin.
Bids still have to be accepted and opened, but Adams said the county has budgeted about two-thirds of the $50 million bond issue to building the replacement for the existing courts building, located at Sixth Street and Pearl Avenue.
The county purchased and removed the former First Baptist Church building at Seventh Street and Pearl Avenue, and the city of Joplin has vacated Pearl Avenue between Sixth and Seventh streets to allow for the construction.
“I think we’re still on target to bid the jail project by the end of September,” Adams said. “We’re still waiting on construction drawings. We’re not to that stage; we’re close. We were delayed a bit by everything that’s going on around us.
“The pandemic has made this project a lot different. We’ve been subjected now to virtual meetings, which is something that’s completely different when trying to work through different issues you have trying to design a building.”
Adams said the existing courts building is too small, outdated and worn beyond renovation. He said the new building will sit on the south side of the lot on either side of Pearl Avenue between Sixth and Seventh streets.
The existing courts building sits on the north side of that lot and will be torn down to make room for parking once the new building is finished.
He said the county needed more space in Joplin to conduct business, and the new courts building will provide that.
Adams said he expects construction of the new courts building to take between 18 months and two years after construction starts later this year.
The Jasper County Jail, 405 E. Fifth St. in Carthage, will get its first major expansion since the 1990s and third expansion since it was built in the middle of the 20th century.
Adams said the county is budgeting about $10 million. He said Crossland Construction, the prime contractor on the project, is evaluating bids from subcontractors and will present the county with a “guaranteed maximum price” in about two weeks.
Construction should begin soon after those steps are taken, in as soon as about two weeks.
Sheriff Randee Kaiser said the project will add about 100 beds and space for interview rooms, visitation spaces, video hearings, telemedicine and telecounseling appointments and other activities to make operations easier in a modern jail environment.
“We only have one room available for contact visits,” Kaiser said. “We will be able to expand that service by renovating existing spaces. There’s also a new kitchen in the project.”
Kaiser said the builders will build the new space on the east side of the courthouse on two vacant lots purchased by the county in recent years.
He said most of the new wing will be built and finished on the inside as much as possible before the builder starts making holes in the existing building to connect the structures, minimizing the amount of disruption in jail function and housing inmates.
Kaiser said items that are stored now on the east side of the jail will be moved to other vacant lots recently purchased by the county on the south side of Fifth Street south of the jail.
Once construction is completed, the lots on the south side of Fifth Street will be improved as parking for jail employees.