Jackson County Historic Truman Courthouse, Independence, MO

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Description:  In 2012, Jackson County, Missouri selected Piper-Wind Architects to design and oversee the interior restoration and renovations to the Historic Truman Courthouse located on the square in downtown Independence, Missouri.  The plans called for the building, which was originally constructed in 1826 and had five subsequent major renovations, to be brought back to its 1933 design when it was last substantially renovated by President Harry S. Truman.  That year, Truman oversaw the construction of a new courthouse in downtown Kansas City, while also remodeling the historic courthouse on Independence Square, which soon after became known as “Truman’s Courthouse”.

In addition to restoring the inside of the building to its 1933 design, improvements to the 35,400 SF building included updating the air conditional equipment, restroom facilities, and plumbing, mechanical and electrical systems.  An elevator was installed to allow full public access to all three floors. Once finished, the historic Independence courthouse was returned to the integrity of its 1933 design and now offers various attractions, including tours of President Truman’s office and the courtroom where he once worked as Presiding Judge of Jackson County.  The courthouse, which has been listed on the National Register of Historic Places since 1972, now also features a gallery displaying art and historical artifacts significant to the State of Missouri.

Various county departments, the Independence Department of Tourism and Jackson County Historical Society are now housed in the courthouse as well.  The newly renovated Courthouse provides accommodations for the County’s Department of Collections, Assessment, Recorder of Deeds, Communications offices and Administrative offices.  In addition, it provides space for the Visitor’s Center staffed by the City’s Tourism Department who also has its offices in the building.  The Jackson County Historical Society has a major presence in the building, with archival storage, a bookshop, and a large research center.  The two primary courtrooms – the Brady Courtroom dating from the original building construction, and the Truman Courtroom which was occupied by President Truman during his years at the Courthouse, remain as museum exhibits where tours are led by the City’s Tourism Department and the Jackson County Historical Society.  In addition to the Art Gallery, a large public media/meeting room for special evens was provided.

The renovation was completed by removal of all non-original construction and only the partial removal of three small original walls – including two in the basement.  Design features include the preservation of all the common areas, the restoration of the original high plaster ceilings throughout, the cleaning and restoring of existing woodwork, doors and hardware, the restoration of the bell tower and the original flooring (including the existing “battleship linoleum”).  The renovation also removed later additions including lay-in ceilings; provided state of the art card readers, security systems and IT cabling, enhanced life safety and fire protection systems and new attic insulation.

In his 2012 State of the County address, County Executive Mike Sanders stressed, “This building will serve a 21st Century purpose by housing various County departments, so that it, once again, becomes a working courthouse for all of our citizens.  The Truman Courthouse is not only significant to our community, but also to the history of our nation,” said Sanders.  “This is a generational investment that will honor our past while also putting this space back to work for many more years to come.”

The work was accomplished in two phases.  The first phase was the abatement of hazardous materials in the building, including the removal of lead paid, asbestos and avian feces, demolition of walls that were not original to the building, and carpet removal.  The second phase completed the restoration and renovation of the building elements to accommodate the new uses as described.  The project was fully complete and open to the public in the September, 2013.