Wichita Children’s Home to build new campus

Editor's note: An earlier version of this story incorrectly spelled Janet Pack's last name.

One of Wichita’s oldest charities is ready to start building a new campus to provide emergency shelter and other services to abused, neglected and homeless children and young adults in the community.

Early next month, Wichita Children’s Home will begin work on new facilities on 13.6 acres of land on 37th Street North between Woodlawn and Rock Road.

The entire project is expected to cost about $11 million, and slightly more than $8 million has been raised so far, said Janet Pack, spokeswoman for the children’s home.

Construction will start with a 28- to 32-unit apartment building for the organization’s BRIDGES program – short for Building Responsibility and Independence through Developing Goals and Empowerment Skills.

The BRIDGES program specifically addresses needs of older teens and young adults – many of whom have lived on the street – so that they can obtain safe housing, and educational and career skills to transition to a stable life on their own, said Melanie Miller Garrett, chief program officer for the children’s home.

At present, BRIDGES participants are housed in a long-stay motel in north Wichita. While that’s been a good relationship, “the space is just a little tighter than we want it to be,” Garrett said.

The new building will allow for better security and put them in close proximity with educators, counselors and other service providers at the main campus, Garrett said.

Work on the new building will begin with a ceremonial ground-breaking Nov. 7 and is expected to be completed in August 2014, Pack said.

The second phase of construction will be a new main building including administration offices and residential housing for younger children who are removed from their homes, she said. Work there will begin in spring of next year, with completion expected about a year later.

The third and final phase will be a multipurpose gymnasium facility, which will be timed to open about the same time as the main building, she said.

When the project is finished, the children’s home will vacate its current facilities at 810 N. Holyoke and probably sell the real estate.

The children’s home, established in 1888, was the first orphanage in Wichita. Up through about the 1950s, it operated as a traditional orphanage where parentless children would stay until adulthood, Garrett said.

In the decades since, its mission has evolved toward providing emergency residential housing in concert with the foster care system, she said.

About two-thirds of the approximately 2,000 children and youths served by the program each year are emergency placements, primarily young children who are brought in by police due to abuse or neglect in the home.

Ideally, they stay only a couple of days until the Department of Children and Families determines whether they can go home safely or need to be placed with foster parents in the community, Garrett said.

Teenagers generally are sheltered for a longer period in a dormitory-style setting, while workers seek to solve the problems in the home setting, she said.