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Wichita, Sedgwick County officials tour former Cessna buildings as possible training site

  • The Wichita Eagle
  • Published Monday, July 7, 2014, at 7:16 p.m.
  • Updated Tuesday, July 8, 2014, at 12 a.m.

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Leaders from Wichita and Sedgwick County on the search for a new law enforcement training center for police officers and sheriff’s deputies toured an empty building Monday along 21st Street that was once used for a welfare-to-work program touted and visited by President Bill Clinton.

The building at 2220 E. 21st St. housed a welfare-to-work program operated by Cessna near the Boys and Girls Club on Opportunity Drive. A nearly identical building sits on the west side of Opportunity Drive. Cessna used it as a subassembly plant. Commissioner Dave Unruh said he, Wichita Mayor Carl Brewer, Wichita Police Chief Norman Williams, Col. Richard Powell of the sheriff’s office and Commissioner Jim Skelton toured both buildings.

A third building west of there on the south side of 21st Street also is under consideration.

The city owns both former Cessna buildings, property records from the county appraiser’s office show. Classic Real Estate is marketing the buildings. The city also owns the third building.

City and county law enforcement currently train in a former school built in 1958 at 37th North and Meridian. The roof leaks, the heating and cooling system is obsolete, and in the winter, snow blows inside through skylights, windows and doors.

“Something’s got to be done,” Wichita City Council member Jeff Blubaugh said of the current center. “If anyone else was up in that building ... we wouldn’t allow them to stay there.”

For years, the city and county planned to build a training center at the new Heartland Preparedness Center at I-135 and K-96 with the Kansas National Guard. But that $30 million project was delayed because of the poor economy.

Police and deputies have been training together since 1985. The county began talking about pulling out of the Heartland project two years ago, saying the $30 million cost, to be split between the county and city, was too high.

Brewer has been adamant about building at Heartland. The city and county also have talked about a training center at Southeast High School. The Wichita School District plans to move its administrative offices to Southeast when the school moves to a new building in 2016. Wichita Area Technical College also has expressed interest in Southeast.

“We’re still pretty much up in the air,” Unruh said after the tour, stressing there were no concrete plans to move training into the 21st Street building or buildings. “They look like they’re nicely built, well-designed buildings.”

Skelton said he was impressed by the buildings. He said officials also toured Heartland on Monday.

“It appears that (the 21st Street buildings) meet the needs of the law enforcement departments,” Skelton said. “So would the Heartland Center. We have a tough decision to make, and I think we need to make it soon. It’s decision time, in my opinion. What happens if this winter the boiler goes out and we have to close down? Waiting is going to provide the perfect opportunity for the boiler to go out.”

The building on the west side of Opportunity Drive at 2130 E. 21st St. is listed as 24,214 square feet on Classic Real Estate’s website. County records show the 1997 building at 23,873 square feet and appraised for $857,900. The building on the east side is listed at 20,232 square feet on Classic’s website and 19,798 square feet on the county’s appraisal site. It was built in 1996, county records show, and is appraised at $853,800.

A flier from Classic says the west-side building has a per-square-foot sublease price of $5 without taxes, insurance or maintenance. The east-side building has a per-square-foot price of $6, also without taxes, insurance or maintenance. The listing is available at www.classicrealestate.net.

Wichita City Council member Lavonta Williams said she still would like to build at Heartland and thinks the 21st Street buildings could be a good temporary location for training.

“We’ll all sit down and come to a decision pretty quick,” she said.

Having law enforcement along 21st Street would be good for that neighborhood, she said.

Unruh agreed.

“Any of the potential locations we’re looking at would be positive for the neighborhood, including Southeast,” Unruh said.

Where police and deputies now train is “an embarrassment,” Unruh said. That building “really shouldn’t be occupied.”

City Council member Jeff Longwell said the current center is a “small thunderstorm away from collapsing. People have told us don’t put any money into it, because you’d be throwing it away.”

The 21st Street location would be a “pretty decent place to move into – if nothing else temporarily.”

Reach Deb Gruver at 316-268-6400 or dgruver@wichitaeagle.com. Follow her on Twitter: @SGCountyDeb.

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