The entrance to the new Jasper County Courts Building faces north up Pearl Street. What you see on Seventh Street is the back of the building. In a nod to our mining heritage, the columns are faced with zinc.

New courts building is a vast improvement, a model for others

Bob Foos

Years of construction at Sixth and Pearl streets in Joplin are about to come to an end now that the new Jasper County Courts Building is finished.

All that’s left is to demolish the building it is replacing. Most will agree the lot it’s on – will be improved when it’s just a parking lot.

Associate Judge Joe Hensley began his judgeship in that building and says he’s glad to be out of it. 

While giving a tour Tuesday, he pointed out how the new courts building is a vast improvement. For one thing, in the basement there’s a holding cell for up to 60 prisoners, where they wait until being taken to trial. Judges drive through a keyed-access gate to their underground parking spaces and separate elevator to the upper floors. In the old building, judges and the prisoners before them could meet on the way to trial.

The open staircase in the new courts building provides a view of the old building being demolished.

While the old building was crowded with low ceilings and had a limited light through narrow windows, the new building is spacious with large areas of glass and an open staircase.

The six courtrooms are equipped with the latest in technology for presentation of audio and visual evidence and video confrencing. It’s also available in jury deliberation rooms.

Juries are assembled in a room capable of seating 100 prospective jurors.

“It’s so much better than we had,” says Hensley.

Like the old building, there are offices for the county clerk, assessor and assessor. They are next door to each other on the east side of the ground floor. On the west side are the court clerk offices and a computer for defendants to look up their court cases. (It was noted that after July 1, Missouri will allow the general public to access more information about court cases.)

Other features of the new building include different floor plans for the criminal and civil courtrooms, a lawyers lounge honoring former Judge Richard Copeland and a judges patio honoring former Judge David Dally.

There’s also a separate space for the treatment court, which serves individuals recovering from substance abuse.

Electronic bulletin boards tell when trials will begin and in what courtroom.

The view of a criminal courtroom from the jury box.

Behind the bench, Associate Judge Joe Hensley has a variety of technology available at his fingertips.

Jasper County’s modern construction on Pearl Street began after April 2016 when voters approved a 1/4-cent tax to build a new juvenile center and rehabilitate the historic Carthage courthouse. The juvenile center, with classrooms, courtroom and detention housing, is located on the northwest corner of Sixth and Pearl streets.

Hensley says he takes special pride in the juvenile center because he designed the courtroom. It’s natural rock walls and warmer colors give it a different vibe than the courtrooms for adults.

Likewise, Hensley drew from the Knights of the Round Table by having the parties face each other in a circle as they work to find a solution.

Hensley also had a hand in the design of the newest courtrooms.

He said other states are now looking to the courtrooms in the juvenile center and courts building as a model. And the way the Carthage courthouse was remodeled has also received praise from other parts of the state.

“In five years,” he said, we’ve gone from one of the worst courthouses in Missouri to what I think is one of the best.”

The Jasper County Juvenile Center was the first new construction by the county on Pearl Street.

The courtroom for juvenile cases has a warmer atmosphere that Judge Joe Hensley believes is more conducive to finding solutions.