Politics & Government

Sedgwick County receives no bids to lease Judge Riddel Boys Ranch

Groups interested in leasing the Judge Riddel Boys Ranch sign in to take a tour of the ranch in August. No group decided to lease the facility.
Groups interested in leasing the Judge Riddel Boys Ranch sign in to take a tour of the ranch in August. No group decided to lease the facility. The Wichita Eagle

Ten groups that had expressed interest in leasing the Judge Riddel Boys Ranch told Sedgwick County “thanks, but no thanks” Wednesday.

County purchasing director Joe Thomas said no one submitted an actual proposal to lease the ranch at Lake Afton. Assistant County Manager Ron Holt said he was probably more disappointed than surprised at the lack of interest.

Three groups toured the ranch last month – Union Rescue Mission, Saint Francis Community Services and Preferred Family Healthcare.

“You might recall one of the groups who went on the tour indicated that the building needed a lot of work,” Holt said.

Holt said a team of four county employees – himself, facilities, fleet and parks director Steve Claassen, public safety director Marv Duncan and Kate Flavin, assistant to the county manager – would meet again “and we’ll be looking at what other options or alternatives we might need to take a look at.”

The county closed the ranch for troubled boys in July, saying it no longer could afford to pay the difference between what it cost to operate the youth residential center II and what the state paid. The county issued a request for proposals last month seeking groups interested in leasing the property for a 10-year period.

In a letter, Union Rescue Mission executive director Denny Bender said, “After prayerful deliberation, the board of directors of the Union Rescue Mission has decided it is not in the Mission’s best interest to assume the significant financial responsibilities of upgrading and operating a facility that the Mission does not own.”

During the tour, Bender said nonprofit was interested in the ranch as a possible new home for a rehabilitation center. Union Rescue Mission serves people who are homeless.

He said the nonprofit’s center in the 2800 block of North Hillside had exceeded its capacity. Men were sleeping on mattresses on the floor because there’s not enough room, he said.

The county estimated last year that the ranch, as a youth residential center II, needed a minimum of $2.6 million to make repairs. A report that County Manager William Buchanan gave commissioners in July noted the ranch’s boilers and hot water systems “have seen 47 years of service in a harsh environment and have met their intended life cycles.” The sewer “is in poor condition with cracks” and root infiltration, the report said.

The ranch also “has many significant ADA (Americans with Disabilities Act) compliance issues,” the report said. The property also has asbestos and lead paint.

“A condition of the lease will be to provide all necessary maintenance and repair to keep the buildings and property improvements in the same or better condition as when the lease becomes effective, allowing for normal wear and tear,” the RFP said.

Two commissioners, Karl Peterjohn and Richard Ranzau, have shown support for reopening the ranch in January. Ranzau must win the general election to have a say in any future at the ranch, and he and Peterjohn would need a third vote from a new District 5 commissioner. Rep. Jim Howell, a Republican, will face former Rose Hill Mayor Richard Young, a Democrat, in the general election in November. Both men have voiced support to reopen the boys ranch.

Commissioners Tim Norton and Dave Unruh voted to close the ranch along with outgoing commissioner Jim Skelton.

The ranch at 25331 W. 39th St. South in Goddard opened in 1961. The county operated it on behalf of the state. The state had paid the county $126 per boy per day, but the county’s cost had been about $200 per boy per day.

The Kansas Legislature gave the county $750,000 in additional funding in the fiscal year that ended June 30. No additional money was budgeted for the fiscal year that started July 1.

Reach Deb Gruver at 316-268-6400 or dgruver@wichitaeagle.com. Follow her on Twitter: @SGCountyDeb.

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