EL DORADO — The new Spiritual Life Center at the El Dorado Correctional Facility was packed Tuesday as state officials, church ministers, volunteers and prisoners gathered for its grand opening.
The center, which cost slightly more than $1 million to build, was six years in the making. Inmates in the correctional facility built the center.
Lynn Everett McBride, director of the Central Kansas Prison Ministry, said more than 180 churches in Kansas and surrounding states donated to the effort.
The center features a 300-seat worship center and classrooms where small-group Bible studies and video classes can be held. There is a multipurpose room, library, computer center, conference room and offices for prison chaplains.
The sanctuary features stained-glass windows, a handmade wood pulpit and state-of-the art sound and video capabilities.
"Some people might say this is too nice," said Larry Crawford, vice president of Central Kansas Prison Ministry. "But it was built with the idea that it would be here a hundred-plus years. It is hopefully filled with the presence of God and will open people's hearts and minds."
The featured speaker was Lt. Governor Troy Findley, who praised the efforts but also took the opportunity to criticize state budget cuts to the prison system.
"It is an honor to help dedicate and celebrate this faith-neutral center where inmates can exercise their faith, change their perspective and learn life skills," Findley said. "This center will help provide those who use it the tools, resources, the hope and guidance to make the most of their own lives.
"It is through innovative efforts like this that Kansas has created a model correctional system."
But, Findley said, those efforts are in jeopardy.
"We need to realize that many of our accomplishments are at risk," he said. "The past year, the Department of Corrections has seen its budget dramatically reduced."
As a result, he said, the state has been forced to suspend operations at various facilities across the state. The cuts have also led to the closing of day reporting centers in Topeka and Wichita and the elimination of transitional housing programs for high-risk offenders re-entering communities following their release from prison.
Ray Roberts, warden for the El Dorado Correctional Facility, said the new Spiritual Life Center was a place of hope.
"It is for those people struggling with life issues," he said. "It will provide a place for people to change their perspective."