A first look at the new Douglas County Justice Center

6 News got a first look at the new Douglas County Justice Center.
Published: May. 19, 2023 at 6:49 PM CDT
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OMAHA, Neb. (WOWT) - After years of meetings, debates and construction, the Douglas County Justice Center is almost ready for the public.

County officials gave 6 News a tour of the new facility Friday afternoon.

From concept to finish, it took five years to complete the tower and officials say the project came in under budget.

The first thing you notice about the more than $120 million project is the abundance of natural light and the abundance of room.

“When we started the project one of the big focal points of the project was space for our county attorney, our public defender and our juvenile judges,” said Mary Ann Borgeson, the Chairperson of the Douglas County Commissioners.

The Douglas County Attorney will operate from the 6th and 7th floors. Douglas County Attorney Don Klein says it’s a better work environment, and for the first time in his memory, the county attorney’s operation has been in one place.

“It’s difficult when you have people spread out all over the place,” Klein said. “You know a lot of the lawyers that work here are young lawyers and they need to be mentored and trained, and so its good for them to be in the vicinity of other more experienced lawyers to learn from them.”

The Public Defender’s Office is on the fifth floor, and this is a major upgrade from the makeshift office space they had in the courthouse.

“It’s just important for our clients to feel valued and that they can come in and have a professional meeting with their attorneys in a professional space,” said Marth Warthon with the Public Defender’s Office. “Gives them a lot more trust in us and the fact that they’re getting high-quality legal representation.”

The most talked about part of the building is the Juvenile Justice Center. Large waiting areas and private conference rooms on the second and third floors. One change from the courthouse is a secure hallway to get juveniles into the court room without having to mix with the public.

“Instead of having to be paraded in public they have some dignity,” said Wade Goehring with HDR.

The juvenile courtrooms are kid-friendly, designed to provide more light and be less intimidating. The judge’s bench is not set up high above the courtroom.

“So this whole system is designed towards that whole concept of restorative justice,” said George Achola, the Vice President and legal counsel with Burlington Capital. “Making sure that the kids are treated as kids, even though some may have committed heinous crimes, but at the end of the day we still have to remember they’re children and we’ve go to treat them accordingly.”

There is a walkway with frosted windows for more privacy as employees and the public travel from the courthouse to the justice center. Officials believe this building will provide a calming effect and hope for the young people it was designed to serve.

The new Douglas County Justice Center will be open to the public on the first of next month.