The Kansas Department for Children and Families confirmed Tuesday that it will move from the Finney State Office Building downtown to space at 2601 S. Oliver that the U.S. Postal Service is vacating.
“We feel this move is an important step to improving client services,” DCF Secretary Phyllis Gilmore said in a statement. “Enhanced safety features will also better protect clients and DCF staff.”
Not everyone in state government agrees with Gilmore’s assessment.
“It’s a terrible, awful decision,” said state Sen. Oletha Faust-Goudeau, D-Wichita. “I’m actually kind of … really emotional about this right now.”
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Faust-Goudeau said the DCF should have remained at the Finney building, 130 S. Market, which is owned by the city and county.
“My thought on this is it’s sad, because originally that location was selected because it was centrally located in downtown,” she said.
Faust-Goudeau said bus lines are not nearly as accommodating at the new space.
“We’re going to pay more, and we’re going to get less,” said state Rep. Jim Ward, D-Wichita. “There’s a number of things that make it harder to get to state services.”
In June 2013, the state gave notice to the city and county that nine state agencies and more than 700 employees – including about 550 at the DCF – would be leaving the Finney building.
City officials tried to keep the agencies by lobbying DCF officials and the governor, but the state said the building didn’t fit the DCF’s needs any longer.
The Eagle has been following the DCF’s negotiations on the South Oliver space for more than six months.
“During this decision making, perhaps we should have had the people who need the services at the table helping make this decision,” Faust-Goudeau said. “I believe this move will cause further hardship on those who need the services offered by DCF.”
Theresa Freed, the DCF’s director of communications, said the new 97,532-square-foot space is on one floor.
“Certainly, the single-floor layout is conducive to our business process,” she said. “It’s also a reduced amount of space, so we’re able to work more closely together.”
Freed said there is free, safe parking for clients and employees, which she said is an improvement.
She said the state is paying $13 a square foot for the space, which the release said could mean an $8 million to $10 million savings over the 20-year lease.
“We think this is going to be a much better use of taxpayer dollars,” Freed said.
Ward said the city and county decreased rent at the Finney building to $6 a square foot.
“I know that $6 a square foot is less than $13 a square foot,” Ward said. “It’s simple arithmetic, and their arithmetic doesn’t add up.”
In an e-mailed response to Ward’s criticism of what the DCF is spending, Freed said: “The Finney State Office Building no longer meets the needs of the Kansas Department for Children and Families. The move to the new facility represents a cost savings from what we are currently paying to lease the Finney State Office Building.
“Although one of our strategic objectives is to exercise responsible stewardship of public resources, we must also balance that with ensuring that we are meeting our clients’ need for safety and fast and efficient service.”
Freed said the move will happen in 2015 but that she couldn’t be more specific.
The postal service is moving its new call center from South Oliver to a building near East 47th Street South and South Oliver. It looks like that move will happen in the next few months.
Freed said the DCF will need about at least four months to update its new space, which will include putting in new carpet, tile and paint.
“We think it’ll be an all-around good move,” she said.