The Douglas County Board will consider buying two buildings and a parking lot in downtown Omaha for what could become the site of a new campus primarily focused on juvenile justice.
The property is across Harney Street from the Douglas County Courthouse. It includes Omaha Housing Authority headquarters at 1805 Harney St. and its nearby parking lot, and a former U.S. Army Corps of Engineers building at 420 S. 18th St.
The County Board is expected to deliberate at its public meeting Tuesday on resolutions to make formal offers to purchase the properties, Douglas County Administrator Patrick Bloomingdale said. The resolutions propose that the county offer $2.75 million to the Housing Authority for its headquarters, and to offer Marcy Mason LLC $900,000 for its property at 420 S. 18th St.
The purchases, if they happen, would give the county control of most of the city block bounded by 18th, 19th, Harney and Howard Streets. The county already owns a building at 408 S. 18th St. and an adjoining parking lot. The building houses the information technology agency for Douglas County and the City of Omaha, DOT.Comm.
The intended purpose of the acquisitions would be to create a site for a long-desired new home for juvenile and family courtrooms and related services to replace cramped quarters in the Douglas County Courthouse.
Tentative plans call for buildings that would house those entities, plus new space for the Douglas County Attorney’s and Douglas County Public Defender’s Offices. A new youth detention center could also be built on the site.
The county’s DOT.Comm building, the OHA building and the former Corps of Engineers building would be demolished to make way for the new facilities.
The county is not pursuing another building on the block, the original Omaha Public Library at 1823 Harney St. The Thomas Kimball-designed building, on the National Register of Historic Places, is used as offices. It was unclear Tuesday where the Omaha Housing Authority would move its headquarters if the property acquisitions go through.
The County Board is expected to discuss justice center plans Tuesday. But no formal proposal has been made and it won’t make those decisions for some time. The board at this time is deciding only on whether or not to make formal offers to buy the properties. The county has been in discussions with the owners.
Advocates for a new juvenile justice center have been pressing for years for new quarters. They say the juvenile courts have outgrown their space in former holding cells on the sixth floor of the Douglas County Courthouse.
Because of the cramped space and layout of the current space in the courthouse, children in court for family issues sometimes share hallways and waiting rooms with adults accused of abusing children and with youths in handcuffs who are accused of serious offenses.
The Douglas-Omaha Public Building Commission, which oversees the Douglas County Courthouse and the City-County Building, has been pursuing the idea of a new juvenile justice center. The commission hired consultants in 2017 to do a study. The consultants in January proposed a variety of facilities, costing up to a projected $100 million, in a downtown or suburban setting.
Commission members have focused on downtown. They were in discussions with Metropolitan Utilities District officials to purchase all or part of its downtown headquarters site. Those talks fell through, and the county is now focusing on the 18th and Harney Streets location.