April 24, 2013

County officials tour outdated law enforcement training center

A nearly 60-year-old boiler that looks like it was ripped from a rusty submarine. Restrooms and water fountains built for children, not adults. A leaky roof and drippy windows.

A nearly 60-year-old boiler that looks like it was ripped from a rusty submarine. Restrooms and water fountains built for children, not adults. A leaky roof and drippy windows.

Those are some of the problems at the Wichita/Sedgwick County Law Enforcement Training Center that Sheriff’s Capt. Mike Stover pointed out Wednesday to county leaders.

Commission Chairman Jim Skelton and Commissioner Dave Unruh toured the training center at 37th Street North and Meridian with County Manager William Buchanan and a few sheriff’s staff members.

A majority of commissioners agree a new training center is important for the sheriff’s office and Wichita Police Department, but the commission has yet to get behind sharing the $30 million cost to build a training center at the Heartland Preparedness Center at K-96 and I-135. That’s where the Kansas National Guard has built, and 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 current center is in a former school built in 1958. The city and county formed a training partnership in 1984 and have been training together since shortly after then, Stover said.

The building has seen better days.

“During a few of the snow storms this winter, we had snow blow into the building through the skylights, windows and doors,” Stover wrote in an e-mail to Skelton, Unruh and Buchanan that Skelton shared with The Eagle. “The building heating and cooling system is obsolete and many of the parts are not made any longer.”

Repairs would cost hundreds of thousands of dollars, and Stover noted that “the funds that are spent for building repair are utilized for the upkeep of a building we do not own.”

The school district leases the building to the city.

The county and city are discussing how to trim the cost of building at Heartland, Skelton said Wednesday. Although the city has committed to building there, the county has balked at the $30 million price tag, which would be split between the two governments.

“I think we’ll be able to reduce the cost but still locate there,” Skelton said. “I think there are a lot of options. One of the ideas that I like is we can build it in a modular format” and build some now and some later.

Buchanan toured Southeast High School earlier this year with an eye toward possibly locating a training center there. But the city said it was still on board with building at K-96 and I-135.

“That might have been a consideration earlier but it’s probably better we try to get something built at Heartland,” Skelton said. “It’s just not going to be a $30 million project upfront. That’s been made very clear. I think my next move is to talk to the sheriff and ask him to get with the police and get the ball rolling on getting something out there.”

Wichita Mayor Carl Brewer said the council “has asked the chief of police to look at it and see what we can do to scale it back.”

But not all commissioners are sold on the need to be at Heartland.

Unruh said although “I think that the need for a new training facility is approaching a critical point, I would need to see what the alternatives are in order to make a good decision.”

Those alternatives would include remodeling an existing building, Unruh said.

“I don’t know if an option to go into Heartland is very much a reality,” he said. “I need to see what those numbers are. I’m not going to be supportive of a shared $30 million facility.”

Commissioners Karl Peterjohn and Richard Ranzau oppose moving forward with the project as it stands at $30 million. “We don’t even have a list of criteria for a new center and which of those are not being met,” Ranzau said Wednesday.

Commissioner Tim Norton said he would like to move forward at Heartland.

“I’ve always been supportive of the combined training facility,” Norton said. “I’m a little disappointed that the Kansas Highway Patrol, the Marines and some of the others have dropped out. I still think we need a new training facility. The one we have is woefully insufficient. Having said that, though, if budgets look like the $30 million price tag is too much, if there’s some redesign to slim it up, then I’m OK with that. The key is I hate to just scrap it and do nothing because we have kind of committed to the National Guard over the years.”

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