Helping the Child Advocacy Center of Sedgwick County with renovations for a new location sends a message that children matter in the greater Wichita community, a county commissioner said Tuesday.
“It’s a pretty sad state of affairs,” Commissioner Tim Norton said of the current space, where children are at risk of running into their abusers. “We have an obligation to do better than that for our community.”
Diana Schunn, executive director of the center, met with county commissioners and staff to talk about the center’s request for $1 million to help renovate Lincoln Elementary School just south of downtown.
The center has raised more than $4 million toward its $6.5 million goal to turn the former school into a one-stop shop for abused and neglected children. About 55 employees from eight agencies will work at the school, providing services to children harmed by parents and other caregivers.
The center, which serves about 2,000 children a year, launched its “Beyond Closed Doors” campaign in late 2011 and purchased the school in October 2013.
Schunn said demolition is set to begin in January with renovations to follow in March.
“We’re hoping to move into the building by the end of 2015 but probably more likely early 2016,” Schunn told commissioners. “Just last month we crossed the $4 million mark, and we are very anxious to move forward.”
Investigators from the Exploited and Missing Child Unit, social workers from the Kansas Department for Children and Families and personnel from the pediatrics department of the University of Kansas Medical School in Wichita, Via Christi Health and Wesley Medical Center will work with the center at the renovated building.
Schunn said the center plans to approach the city about a contribution but doesn’t yet know how much it will request. The center does not plan to ask the state for money for renovations. The state, county and city have each pledged $85,000 a year to help with utilities and other expenses at the center. The county’s overall budget for the center, not including renovation expenses, is $205,000 this year and next year.
Commissioner Jim Skelton expressed support for the center, which he said helps address “evil deeds done to children.”
“In my heart here you have 100 percent of my support, maybe even 150 percent,” Skelton said, adding he might even support giving the center $1.5 million.
District Attorney Marc Bennett said he also wholeheartedly supports the center’s efforts.
“Every one of these kids has a life that is going to be affected long term,” Bennett said.
Commissioner Richard Ranzau asked where the $1 million would come from in the county’s budget.
County Manager William Buchanan said the money is available as part of the county’s financial plan, which budgets for expenses that pop up from time to time. The money will not affect the county’s bottom line, he said.
“This is a worthy cause, and we need to be supportive of it,” Ranzau said of the center. “But we have lots of worthy causes.”
In what became an awkward sidebar of the meeting, Skelton turned to Commissioner Karl Peterjohn and asked how much he had given the zoo after he voted against a request for more than $5 million earlier.
During discussion for that vote, Peterjohn mentioned publicly that he was personally giving the zoo a donation for its new elephant exhibit.
Peterjohn told Skelton on Tuesday that he had written the zoo a check for $100.
Skelton then asked his fellow commissioner if he would give $100 to the Child Advocacy Center.
“I make my own charitable donations,” Peterjohn said. “I also tithe to my church.”
Commissioners likely will vote on the center’s financial request next week.