To their credit, Wichita and Sedgwick County leaders aren’t letting a long-running dispute over where to relocate the joint law enforcement training center get in the way of seeking a solution together. It only makes sense to keep up the communication and collaboration, for fiscal reasons but also for public safety.
Since 1985, the city and county have had a shared commitment to a combined training academy, viewing it as cost-effective common sense. But time is getting short for decision making about the future.
The current facility at 37th Street North and Meridian is a worsening problem of roof leaks, outdated heating and cooling systems, and more. A sewer backup recently necessitated a temporary closing and cleanup.
Mayor Carl Brewer brought up the training center at the end of a City Council workshop earlier this month, asking, “Where are we?”
The key question is actually: Where is it going to be?
Brewer still argues strongly that the county needs to join the city in building a facility as part of the Kansas National Guard’s new Heartland Preparedness Center at I-135 and K-96. But a recession-related delay of the $30 million project led to second thoughts, with county leaders especially interested in finding a less-costly alternative. The necessity of keeping a promise to the National Guard is further diminished by the reality of how little the facility resembles the original idea – which was to incorporate firefighters, county 911 communications and emergency operations, the U.S. Marine Corps Reserve and the Kansas Highway Patrol – and how little dual usage of the facility seems likely, in part because of post-Sept. 11 security concerns at the federal level.
The further delay has expanded the options to include Southeast High School, which is getting a new site, and the county’s Judge Riddel Boys Ranch, which is expected to close this summer. At Southeast, the law enforcement center might share space with USD 259 administrative offices and some Wichita Area Technical College activities. But the school won’t be free until 2016 and the need is now. Meanwhile, the Lake Afton ranch has its own infrastructure problems.
Members of the council and commission recently met to discuss the center. A temporary move might not be a bad thing, according to County Commission Chairman Dave Unruh. “Let’s find an interim place so that we can take our breath and check both of our financial pictures for the long term and what our bonding capability is and go forward,” he told The Eagle editorial board on Tuesday.
City Manager Robert Layton recently told the council: “We’re still hoping that the city and county can get on the same page for the construction and operation of the facility.”
So are taxpayers.