A meeting of the minds took place Friday about the Heartland Preparedness Center, but no decision was reached about whether Wichita and Sedgwick County will spend $30 million to build a joint law enforcement training center there.
Maj. Gen. Lee Tafanelli, adjutant general of Kansas, came to Wichita for the meeting called by Mayor Carl Brewer.
Wichita Police Chief Norman Williams, Sedgwick County Sheriff Jeff Easter and County Commissioners Jim Skelton and Dave Unruh attended the meeting with a few other officials, including Wichita City Manager Bob Layton.
“It went fine,” Unruh said after the meeting. “The city wants to go there and wants our commitment to continue our participation up there.”
The Kansas National Guard will be at the center at I-135 and K-96. For years, the plan was for the city’s police department and county’s sheriff office to train there, too. At various times, the Kansas Highway Patrol, the Marines and the Wichita Fire Department also talked of training there.
The city and county now train at an old school at 37th Street North and Amidon.
The city and county, which already have paid for the infrastructure for the center, would spend $15 million each for a combined training center.
The city wants to go forward, but the county has been hesitant to commit, saying the economy is too unsure to spend that much taxpayer money.
Unruh said the National Guard is preparing some additional information for commissioners to look at before they make a decision.
“I think we have to evaluate all of our options in light of our priorities and in light of our budget pressure,” Unruh said.
County Manager William Buchanan has said he is hard-pressed to spend $15 million when less expensive alternatives may be possible.
Skelton said the gathering was a “very friendly meeting. It went better than I thought it would. We got some questions answered. The project has changed over the last 10 years it’s been in the planning stages. Is this $30 million, is it going to be worth the money to locate at that site?
“Because there have been changes in what was originally proposed, we have to educate all the commissioners and the staff and there’s going to have to be more discussion,” Skelton said.
Sharon Watson, spokeswoman for the Kansas adjutant general, confirmed that “we agreed to provide the county some additional information that they asked for, including more details about the building design, the layout and some of the shared space and how we would work together. The mayor reiterated the city’s commitment.”
Brewer said he will continue to push for the training center at Heartland.
“General Tafanelli did talk about the importance of having this consolidated training area for both the Guard and police and sheriff’s office and that it would be good not only for Wichita and Sedgwick County but also for the entire state of Kansas. This would be the largest facility you would have these type of amenities in Kansas.
“It’s something that’s a high priority.”