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Kansas Coliseum land in sights for satellite county jail

Sedgwick County should set aside land at the former Kansas Coliseum site for a future satellite jail, some commissioners say.

County staff has recommended hiring a broker to sell the complex in Park City.

Meanwhile, the county has searched unsuccessfully for a few years to find property near downtown for a work-release center or minimum-security jail.

Tuesday, the two ideas merged, although Park City residents aren’t thrilled.

Commissioner Jim Skelton said the county should hang onto the Kansas Pavilions, 40 acres for a jail and “sell the rest” of the 208-acre property. The Coliseum closed after Intrust Bank Arena opened downtown.

“I would be adamant about not selling the pavilions,” he said of the buildings popular for livestock, horse shows, swap meets and other events.

Skelton said it makes sense to reserve land for a satellite jail. Because of overcrowding, the county sends some inmates who don’t require maximum security to other jails across Kansas. It costs less — roughly $40 a day — to do that than to keep them at the maximum-security jail downtown, where the cost is closer to $70 a day.

On Tuesday, 372 inmates were housed out of county, a higher number than usual because of some work being done at the jail to make it more environmentally friendly.

Between the jail and other facilities, there were 1,545 inmates in county supervision Tuesday.Skelton said the county should try to keep inmates here instead of scattered across Kansas.Sheriff Robert Hinshaw said he would like to see land set aside.

“There’s no place in the core area to have a satellite facility,” Hinshaw said.

Several neighborhood groups have chanted “Not in my backyard” in response to the idea of jail.

Park City administrator Jack Whitson said residents there likely would feel the same.

“We’ve already been contacted by some residents, and they don’t like the idea,” he said Tuesday.

The Park City Council has not met about it, he said.

“I would think that they would possibly do well to hear from the general public and get their feel for it,” Whitson said. “Personally, my only concern is that if they do put a jail there, that would tend to devalue the property.”

Whitson also noted that the county has other land it could consider, including property at Furley in the northeastern part of the county that the city of Wichita gave to pay off some of its jail fees.Hinshaw said keeping inmates in Sedgwick County also could help reduce recidivism.

“If we just want to lock people up,” it’s OK to send inmates across the state, Hinshaw said.

But services geared at rehabilitation — job training, counseling, education — are difficult to do when inmates are spread out.

Not all commissioners are sold on the idea.

“I don’t think we should do that,” Commissioner Dave Unruh said of the idea. Doing so, he said, would encumber the property. “It restricts the potential to sell it.”

Unruh said he realizes housing inmates in other counties is not ideal, but he said it’s economical.

“It’s the most budget friendly,” he said.

Unruh also said the Criminal Justice Coordinating Council has been working on alternatives to building or expanding a jail.

“We know absolutely if you build space, it will get filled up,” Unruh said.

Commissioner Karl Peterjohn said it has been “very difficult” to find a location for a possible satellite jail.

“That’s a site where we’ve already got infrastructure there as well as it’s close to some major roads,” Peterjohn said of the Coliseum complex, near I-135 and 85th Street North.

“I wanted to leave the option available,” he said. “Forty acres seems a little on the large side, but I could easily see something on a slightly smaller footprint and it would still be a small part of the 200 acres out there.”

Commissioner Richard Ranzau, whose district includes the complex, said setting land aside is worth considering for a jail or “who knows, maybe something else.”

“When people know the county is looking for land, it gets expensive,” he said.

Reach Deb Gruver at 316-268-6400 or dgruver@wichitaeagle.com.

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