Building near jail considered for work release center

County and city officials have had preliminary talks about using the Rounds and Porter building just west of Wichita City Hall as a work release center.

Sedgwick County Commission Chairman Kelly Parks said Tuesday at a staff meeting that he has met with Wichita Vice Mayor Jim Skelton and City Council member Lavonta Williams about the 285,000-square-foot building at 400 N. Waco.

Skelton said the Rounds and Porter building has advantages because it is close to the county's existing jail and is already government-owned. It is owned by the city. Part of it is used for police property and evidence storage; part is used for city storage; part is vacant.

Skelton said he hasn't had a chance to present the idea to city staff.

The county is struggling with jail overcrowding and has been considering several locations for a work release facility, including an industrial site at 1600 E. Murdock.

Last year, commissioners halted a plan for a $54 million jail expansion so they could reduce property taxes.

The current work release facility at Harry and McLean is overcrowded and there's a waiting list to get on work release.

Commissioner Tim Norton said he visited the Rounds and Porter building, and also talked with the city officials about using it for a work release facility.

While it appears to be usable, Norton said, he didn't know if it could be renovated for the county's purposes.

Commissioner Dave Unruh said the county's search for a satellite jail facility has raised anxiety in the community.

He said he'd like stakeholders and the county's Criminal Justice Coordinating Council to do an analysis and make a recommendation so commissioners had a foundation for some of the concerns they're raising.

"I'm not criticizing anybody, I'm just saying that I would feel more comfortable if this came through our process with the CJCC," he said.

Norton said any use of the building is a long way off.

"It's not anything you can say, 'In six weeks you're going to have a facility in there,' " he said. "I think it needs to be vetted and gone through the whole process."

Parks said all stakeholders would be consulted.

Commissioners Karl Peterjohn and Gwen Welshimer said the county needs to consider all possible sites to compare costs and avoid large expenditures.

"We could go way up into $10, $11, $12 million just to have a facility, and that's what we're trying to avoid in the first place," Welshimer said.