Sedgwick County plans to send out a request for proposals to gauge interest in the property at the Judge Riddel Boys Ranch at Lake Afton.
It wants to know whether someone wants to run a similar program there or do something different.
“We have two inquiries about the use of that property,” County Manager William Buchanan told commissioners Tuesday morning.
The ranch for troubled boys is slated to close next month.
Buchanan would not identify who has approached the county about taking over the ranch and what their plans for the property would be. The Eagle filed a request Monday under the Kansas Open Records Act for any e-mails, letters or informal or formal proposals to the county from groups interested in the ranch.
Sen. Michael O’Donnell, R-Wichita, said he has been working with county and state leaders to see whether other operators of youth residential centers in the state would be interested in taking over the ranch to run it privately.
The state has paid the county $126 per boy per day, but the county’s cost has been about $200 per boy per day.
O’Donnell said he thought a nongovernment group could operate the ranch more efficiently.
“We’re just cautiously optimistic that we can get this taken care of so we don’t have the young men shipped out all across the state,” O’Donnell said Tuesday.
The ranch, which was established in 1961, is on the southwest corner of Lake Afton Park and covers 40 acres. The ranch includes a main building described as suited for offices and dorm rooms, a detached full-sized gym, a workshop, sheds and other outbuildings. It also has a swimming pool.
Besides offices, the 42,000-square-foot main building includes a commercial kitchen, a cafeteria, a library and recreation room, laundry facilities and a maintenance workshop.
The ranch is in disrepair. The county estimated last year that it needed a minimum of $2.6 million to make repairs. It estimated it would cost $14.7 million to replace the ranch.
A report Buchanan gave commissioners Tuesday noted the ranch’s boilers and hot water systems “have seen 47 years of service in a harsh environment and have met their intended life cycles.” The sewer “is in poor condition with cracks” and root infiltration, the report said. The ranch also “has many significant ADA (Americans with Disabilities Act) compliance issues,” the report said. The property also has asbestos and lead paint.
The boys now at the ranch are scheduled to leave the third week of July.
But candidates for commission seats have said they would be interested in re-opening the ranch in January. The board’s majority, which supported closing the ranch, could change next year.
Commissioner Richard Ranzau told the Wichita Pachyderm Club recently that if Rep. Jim Howell, who is seeking the District 5 seat being vacated by Jim Skelton, is elected, he would push to re-open the ranch. He later said he would do the same if Derby Mayor Dion Avello, also running in District 5, had interest. Since then, all of the commission candidates, including Ranzau’s opponents Sen. Carolyn McGinn and Melody McCray-Miller, a former state legislator and commissioner, said they would be open to discussing the ranch’s future.
That has complicated matters for the county.
“There’s some confusion about how to proceed,” Buchanan said.
Buchanan asked Commissioner Karl Peterjohn, who opposed closing the ranch, what his intentions would be in January.
“Depending on who gets elected, there could be a whole host of different faces on the commission come January,” Peterjohn said.
He later stressed he was against closing the ranch.
Commissioner Tim Norton questioned the importance of the property itself.
“Are the programs what makes (the ranch) special, or is it the facility that makes it special?” he asked. “I think we’re holding on to a facility for no good reason. The programs are what saves boys’ lives, not going out to Lake Afton.”