August 7, 2014

Sedgwick County issues request for proposals for Judge Riddel Boys Ranch property

Sedgwick County is shopping the former Judge Riddel Boys Ranch near Lake Afton despite a push by some to reopen the program for troubled boys next year.

Sedgwick County is shopping the former Judge Riddel Boys Ranch near Lake Afton despite a push by some to reopen the program for troubled boys next year.

The county issued a request for proposals this week to gauge interest from people or groups who might have ideas about how to use the ranch. The county closed the youth residential center for troubled boys last month, saying it could no longer afford to subsidize the program for the state.

The closure has been controversial. Commissioners Karl Peterjohn and Richard Ranzau were against the move, but a majority of commissioners said the county could not continue to make up costs.

Ranzau, who won his primary election this week, has said that if he won the general election in November, he would move to reopen the ranch in January. That’s when a new District 5 commissioner will join the board and Peterjohn and Ranzau could get a third vote.

Rep. Jim Howell, who won the District 5 Republican primary, has said he would push to reopen the ranch as well. A new majority on the commission could pressure County Manager William Buchanan to do so.

Commissioners agreed last month to issue an RFP, but Ranzau has repeatedly told Buchanan that he needs a contingency plan to resume operations at the ranch.

“My position has not changed,” Ranzau said Thursday.

Peterjohn agreed. He said there seems to be support, no matter who wins the general election for Districts 4 and 5, to reopen the ranch instead of sending boys to centers elsewhere in the state.

Former commissioner and state representative Melody McCray-Miller, a Democrat who is challenging Ranzau, and Richard Young, a Democrat and former mayor of Rose Hill who is seeking the District 5 seat, have said they would be in favor of trying to open the ranch again.

The ranch, at 25331 W. 39th St. South in Goddard, opened in 1961. The county operated it on behalf of the state. A funding gap in what the state pays the county and what the county says it cost to operate the ranch led Buchanan to recommend closing the facility two years ago.

The state had paid the county $126 per boy per day, but the county’s cost had been about $200 per boy per day. The Kansas Legislature gave the county $750,000 in additional funding in the fiscal year that ended June 30. No additional money was budgeted for the fiscal year that started July 1.

The RFP says the county is looking to lease the ranch for 10 years with possible extensions.

“Proposals will be evaluated on the basis of how the overall interests of the county are best advanced and preserved,” the RFP says.

People or groups interested in the ranch may visit it at 3 p.m. Tuesday before making a pitch. The county is offering the ranch for lease as is and will not make any improvements or repairs, the RFP says.

The county estimated last year that the ranch, as a youth residential center II, needed a minimum of $2.6 million to make repairs. A report Buchanan gave commissioners last month 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.

“A condition of the lease will be to provide all necessary maintenance and repair to keep the buildings and property improvements in the same or better condition as when the lease becomes effective, allowing for normal wear and tear,” the RFP says.

The county will open proposals at 2 p.m. Sept. 3 at the purchasing department, which is in Suite 823 of the courthouse, 525 N. Main.

A news release from the county said there was no timeline on when the county would make a decision about the future of the property.

Buchanan told The Eagle earlier that two groups had expressed interest in the ranch but would not identify them. The Eagle filed a request last month under the Kansas Open Records Act for e-mails, letters or informal or formal proposals to the county from groups that approached the county about the property at Lake Afton.

Buchanan said that “a search for the above-described records identified several items of email correspondence between Sedgwick County and two entities which have expressed some interest in the Judge Riddel Boys Ranch property.”

Buchanan cited an exemption to the open records law that exempts from mandatory disclosure “public records pertaining to prospective location of a business or industry where no previous public disclosure has been made of the business or industry’s interest in locating in, relocating within or expanding within the state.”

“Consequently, your request is respectfully denied at this time,” Buchanan said in a letter to The Eagle.

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

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