Justice will be served in a state-of-the-art courthouse.
Dignitaries and the general public toured the Christian County Circuit Court building after a ceremonial ribbon cutting marked the official opening of the 34,000-square foot building in Ozark. The $11.1 million court building sits to the immediate south of the Christian County Justice Center.
The Missouri 38th Judicial Circuit, which encompasses all of Christian County, has two circuit judges and two associate circuit judges. The two circuit judges will hold court in the new building, which was subject to a joint ribbon cutting with the Ozark and Nixa chambers of commerce on March 29.
Presiding Judge Laura Johnson explained that the building will also be home to the Christian County Prosecuting Attorney’s Office and the Christian County Juvenile Office.
“There was a critical and unacceptable shortage of space for some of our most important law enforcement agencies,” Johnson said. “We frankly got to a critical point where it could be put off no longer.”
Western District Commissioner Hosea Bilyeu thanked the leaders, past and present, who worked to take the additional court building from the planning stages to its completed construction.
“Every person in leadership is called to move somebody from here to there, and the there is not yet seen,” Bilyeu said.
Bilyeu thanked some leaders in particular, including former county commissioners Ray Weter, Bill Barnett and Sue Ann Childers.
“They were people who looked ahead and saw the future. I honor those three,” Bilyeu said.
Bileyu also thanked the project’s principal architecture firm, Paragon Architecture, and its general contractor, DeWitt Construction, both of Springfield.
Christian County Chief Juvenile Officer Perry Barnes said that his staff is looking forward to having more space to operate and to work in a more secure building.
“They see some of the worst of the worst cases day in and day out, and they do a tremendous job, but they have been putting in double and triple time for this move, and I want to thank them,” Barnes said. “We have a responsibility to provide these protections and services in a safe, secure and reasonably private environment. This building means so much to the juvenile office in our community.”
Barnes thanked the county commission and other officeholders for their commitment to the juvenile office.
“The message is loud and clear that families and children are important to you, and I appreciate that,” Barnes said.
Christian County Prosecuting Attorney Amy Fite said the new building also has secure conference rooms and waiting areas so that some of the most vulnerable persons in the court system can be protected.
“Victims and witnesses of crime in Missouri have many rights that are guaranteed to them by the Missouri Constitution as well as by our statutes. Some of those rights include the right to reasonable protection from the defendant, or any person acting on behalf of the defendant, from harm,” Fite said.
The Christian County Circuit Building affords the prosector’s team a level of security that the Justice Center and the Historic Courthouse simply do not have.
“There is a secure waiting area for victims and witnesses, and with this building there is the ability for us to securely transport victims and witnesses here to enter the building,” Fite said. “If you yourself have been the victim of a crime or have witnessed a crime, you know the experience is a stressful one and frequently traumatic.”
Fite said the building represents more than eight years of work to gain courtroom and office space in Christian County. She was first elected prosecutor in 2011, and the discussions and planning had already begun at that time.
The Friday afternoon ribbon cutting also featured musical performances by the Ozark High School band and well as the choirs from Ozark High School and Nixa High School.