Sedgwick County and the city of Wichita are nearly ready to open an underground tunnel that runs between city hall and the courthouse.
But it won’t be open to the public – just certain city and county employees.
The 350-foot tunnel under Central Avenue, just west of Main Street, offers the only weather-protected route between City Hall and the Sedgwick County Courthouse. It’s been closed for more than 13 years.
The county has spent almost $20,000 getting its side open; the city is still installing security measures on its side.
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City officials closed the tunnel in 2004 because of security concerns. When it was open, it was used by law enforcement officers and other government employees, as well as lawyers who had to go back and forth for court. It was also open to the public.
Some county commissioners have expressed interest in re-opening the tunnel. Commissioner Michael O’Donnell said security is a big reason to reopen the tunnel.
“Having staff run across Central is not safe,” O’Donnell said. “Let’s use that resource (the tunnel).”
The county has set up two emergency phones in the tunnel. Door access control is up and running. Four security cameras were supposed to be installed this week. Two defibrillators have been ordered. Costs for the county so far: $19,605.
City spokesman Van Williams said the city was planning to install card readers and cameras in order to open the tunnel on their end. He said the work should be mostly done in two weeks, but there isn’t a time table for the tunnel to reopen.
Having staff run across Central is not safe.
Michael O’Donnell, Sedgwick County Commissioner
It’s still unclear which staff would be allowed access to the tunnel. Tania Cole, the county’s interim operations support services director, said in an e-mail this week that the county was still defining the “limited number of users” that will have access. Williams said “select personnel” from the city would have access.
Public access to the tunnel would create compliance issues with the Americans with Disabilities Act, or ADA. That’s because there’s an elevator on the city end of the tunnel but not the county end.
The county’s 2017 capital improvement program includes a proposal to build an elevator on the county end. But officials have little to no interest in that because of the project’s $666,523 price tag.
Spending that kind of money just to go through the tunnel doesn’t seem necessary.
Dave Unruh, Sedgwick County Chairman
“Spending that kind of money just to go through a tunnel doesn’t seem necessary,” Chairman Dave Unruh said. “If we allow the general public usage, it will require an investment that this commission is not willing to engage.”
The project description says wider access without an elevator could open the county to a lawsuit because of “having an interior route for some, but making people with disabilities go outside.”
“We would be required to make reasonable accommodations for employees,” according to the capital improvement program.