May 10, 2014

Some Wichita, Sedgwick County officials pushing for law enforcement training center at Southeast

Editor’s note: An earlier version of this story contained an incorrect date for the start of joint training between the Wichita Police Department and the Sedgwick County Sheriff’s Office.

Editor’s note: An earlier version of this story contained an incorrect date for the start of joint training between the Wichita Police Department and the Sedgwick County Sheriff’s Office.

Wichita and Sedgwick County leaders say it’s time to stop talking and start moving on a new place to train police officers and sheriff’s deputies.

Plans called for a training center to be built 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.

Wichita Mayor Carl Brewer remains adamant about building at Heartland, but others are looking at Southeast High School as an option. The Judge Riddel Boys Ranch, which probably will close this summer, also has been bandied about as a possible home for training.

The current training center is in a former school built in 1958 at 37th Street North and Meridian that is in unacceptable condition, elected officials say. The roof leaks, the heating and cooling system is obsolete, and snow blows inside in the winter through skylights, windows and doors.

“If the boiler were to go out there, it would cost more to replace the thing than the building’s worth,” Sedgwick County Commissioner Jim Skelton said Friday.

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 then-$30 million cost, to be split between the county and city, was too high.

Initial estimates are a training center at Southeast could be created for as little as $7 million, Skelton said. A space study of the building is underway. The Wichita School District plans to move its administrative offices to Southeast when the school moves to a new building in 2016.

“The (school board) voted last year to move the administrative offices, and there hasn’t been any other discussion to the contrary,” said district spokeswoman Susan Arensman.

Wichita Area Technical College also has expressed interest in Southeast

Skelton and Commission Chairman Dave Unruh met Thursday with Wichita City Council members Jeff Blubaugh and Jeff Longwell.

“I am 100 percent sure that we’re working on getting the law enforcement training center down at Southeast. I believe that there will be those three entities there,” Skelton said, alluding to law enforcement, the school district and WATC.

Brewer, however, is not considering Southeast as an option.

“We gave our word and our commitment” about building at Heartland, he said.

Skelton, a former member of the Wichita City Council, noted there is no signed memorandum of understanding. What made sense years ago, before the economy changed, doesn’t make sense now, he said. He also wondered how the city expects to pay for building at Heartland. The city recently discussed $3 billion in projects, not including a new source of water.

“I will skip the song about how many outstanding needs the city has. Flood control. Streets. Police and fire,” Skelton said.

He also said he thought it would be tough for the city to persuade residents to approve a sales tax increase, as has been considered, when the city could save millions by not building at Heartland.

“We’ve got to find a compromise,” Unruh said. “I fear a timetable will be imposed upon us by being forced out of that building (the current training center) by the people who accredit the training. You can’t continue to train law enforcement people in this building. We’ve used it up. Our sheriff is clear that we’ve got to have someplace new, but he’s also clear that city and county should train together.”

Longwell and Blubaugh said Friday that they agree Southeast should be considered as an option.

“Something has to be done sooner than later. The current conditions that they’re trying to work under up north are just unacceptable,” Blubaugh said.

Southeast would be a more desirable option, Unruh said.

The boys ranch needs a lot of work, too, he said. The need for capital improvements at the Lake Afton ranch is one of the reasons the county is leaning toward closing it.

“And it’s not exactly on the beaten path,” he said.

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