Politics & Government

August 12, 2014

Potential suitors tour Sedgwick County’s Riddel Boys Ranch

The Judge Riddel Boys Ranch was a place where young men turned around their lives, and that’s what drew Union Rescue Mission officials to take a tour of the property near Lake Afton on Tuesday.

Representatives from Union Rescue Mission, Saint Francis Community Services and Preferred Family Healthcare got an inside look at the ranch as part of Sedgwick County’s request for proposals to lease the property. 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 county issued a request for proposals last week to gauge interest from people or groups who might have ideas about how to use the ranch.

Denny Bender, executive director of Union Rescue Mission, said the nonprofit was interested in the ranch as a possible new home for a rehabilitation center. Union Rescue Mission serves people who are homeless.

“This facility was built by the county to rehabilitate lives, and that’s what we’re all about at Union Rescue Mission,” Bender said during a break in the tour.

He said the nonprofit’s center in the 2800 block of North Hillside has exceeded its capacity. Men are sleeping on mattresses on the floor because there’s not enough room, he said.

The ranch appeals to Union Rescue Mission because of its rural setting, Bender said. Studies have shown that people struggling with substance abuse and other issues do better in a more isolated setting than in an urban environment, he said.

Bender and representatives from other groups took a look at the ranch’s dormitories, kitchen, cafeteria, gym and workshop. The air conditioning was not on Tuesday, so the tour was sweat-inducing.

The only area where the air was cool was in the maintenance shop. County purchasing director Joe Thomas jokingly tried to get tour attendees to ask more questions so the group could stay in the air conditioning longer. Assistant County Manager Ron Holt also went on the tour.

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 that County Manager William 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 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 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.

“We’re taking a look,” Bender said. “We haven’t made any formal decisions. But it was designed for what we do.”

Dulcinea Rakestraw, vice president of treatment services for Preferred Family Healthcare, said she was taking a look as a possibility to operate the same type of program as the ranch. Preferred Family Healthcare has two such centers near the ranch, though one is closing.

“I think it would require too much (work) for our needs,” she said. “I certainly see the challenges that the county had.”

The county is seeking a 10-year lease for the ranch. That length of time could be problematic, said Brian Carlgren of Saint Francis, because of what the state pays for youth residential center II programs.

Commissioners Richard Ranzau and Karl Peterjohn have pushed to reopen the ranch in January. Ranzau recently won the Republican primary for his district.

He faces former commissioner and state representative Melody McCray-Miller in the general election. She told The Eagle she would be open to discussions about reopening the ranch.

A new District 5 commissioner – Rep. Jim Howell won the Republican primary last week – could provide Peterjohn and Ranzau, if re-elected, a majority to pressure Buchanan to reopen the ranch. Howell faces former Rose Hill mayor Richard Young in the general election.

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

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

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