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Jackson County Legislature gives green light to air-conditioning fix

Temporary fix to help keep courtrooms cool
Jackson County Courthouse
Posted at 4:41 PM, May 03, 2021
and last updated 2021-05-03 19:38:15-04

KANSAS CITY, Mo. — The Jackson County Legislature unanimously approved bringing in outside equipment to cool down certain floors of the courthouse as it waits for a permanent fix to its air conditioning system that will cost tax payers more money.

"This has really devastating impacts for people who are in jail, for people who are out, for victims, for defendants, everybody," ackson County Prosecutor Jean Peters Baker said. "The whole system teeters on the need to have those courtrooms open."

The issues started in February when crews drained the pipes that supply the 87-year-old air conditioning system and discovered leaks. Repairs will take place, but the cool air will not kick on until late June, at the earliest. In the meantime, people in the courthouse go without.

"Without the ability to schedule jury trials, conduct jury trials, lawyers and litigants have no incentive to try to resolve their cases," Judge J. Dale Youngs, Division 6, said. "We saw that in March with COVID."

On Monday, the Jackson County Legislature discussed its Emergency Cooling Ordinance. Public Works wants to bring in outside equipment that would push cool air into floors three through eight, which would help cool down courtrooms so the justice system can continue its work. It would cost nearly $1.6 million.

The prosecutor's office, which is on floors 10 and 11, would not be included.

"It's an annoyance for my staff that they are maybe not going to have a comfortable environment to be in," Peters Baker said. "The court gave us last week, a bunch of fans. So we placed fans around our office. We managed to get someone to come up with a key and unlock our windows. It's at least – today its habitable, but I don't know if it will be next week?"

She said on Monday that her staff worked from home in a "very successful way" last year, but that "you can not work from home with jury trials."

Many worry that not having A/C would delay cases in a system that already is backed up, as well as pose health risks.

First page of ordinance 5502.
Second page of ordinance 5502.
Third/last page of ordinance 5502.

But judges are opposed to moving trials to a different location.

"As the chair properly noted, we can't move to the Marriott," Youngs said. "We can't try murder cases at the Marriott. It's not safe for anybody."

While the temporary fix was approved 9-0, equipment to repair the A/C unit will not arrive until the first week of June. In the meantime, people in the building will have to wait for relief.

"I don't like this solution," Dan Tarwater III, Jackson County Legislature chairman, said. "You know that, but I think this is about the only thing that we can pass."

Jackson County Executive Frank White said in a statement Monday night that he commended the legislature for unanimously approving the ordinance.

During a lengthy and substantive public meeting, members of the legislature asked tough, but fair questions regarding the plan and the sizeable investment required to put the plan into action," White said. "The Legislature discussed using CARES Act monies to fund the plan and though not formally adopted today, I am supportive if that is their desire."