Politics & Government

Sedgwick County Commission stalls renovation plans for former IRS building

The former IRS building in downtown Wichita.
The former IRS building in downtown Wichita. File photo

Plans for renovating the county-owned former IRS building came to a halt Tuesday.

The Sedgwick County Commission was starkly divided over whether to renovate the office building at 271 W. Third St. or explore other options for placing county government offices.

“I don’t think we have consensus to move forward with anything,” Chairman Richard Ranzau said at the commission’s staff meeting.

It would cost about $4.6 million to renovate the interior and the exterior of the building to fit several county departments, according to the most recent architectural estimates. With the building’s initial $4.9 million pricetag and interest, the building could cost the county between $13 million and $16 million.

“It’s almost like we’re buying this building a second time,” Commissioner Karl Peterjohn said.

A majority of the commissioners, including Ranzau, Peterjohn and Jim Howell, said there may be less expensive alternatives.

“We’re talking about a $16 million bond, a very long-term commitment to this configuration, and we’re not even sure it’s going to work,” Howell said.

“I’d like to see us put a hold on 271 entirely for now and start the process of a request for proposal,” he said.

Commissioners Dave Unruh and Tim Norton wanted to proceed with the existing construction plans, which would have the 271 building completed by the end of July 2016.

“We have analyzed it, scrutinized it and dissected it every way possible,” Unruh said.

“We have taken our time with the design and talking about who is going to occupy the building.”

The latest plans would house the Metropolitan Area Building and Construction Department, the Metropolitan Area Planning Department, the county’s appraiser’s office and the professional standards unit of the sheriff’s office in the 271 building.

“I continue to hear from folks in the business community and average citizens that consolidation … is not a bad thing,” Norton said.

Howell said it’s worthwhile to see if other options for housing those departments could be cheaper, especially further away from other downtown government offices such as the county courthouse.

“Once we see the data, we can make a choice of holding on to 271 or choosing a different path,” he said.

Howell said the county shouldn’t keep the building vacant for long if it chooses another location for the offices. He said the county could find other uses for it or auction it off.

“I don’t think government should be owning large amounts of property that we don’t have a purpose for,” he said.

Acting county manager Ron Holt said the county chose the 271 building after vetting more than 30 other buildings.

County officials think the full request for proposal, or RFP, process for office space in another building could take around four months, said Kristi Zukovich, a county spokeswoman.

Reach Daniel Salazar at 316-269-6791 or dsalazar@wichitaeagle.com. Follow him on Twitter: @imdanielsalazar.

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