Plans for a new place for law enforcement training may soon take shape.
Sedgwick County is seeking proposals for a new home to train local law enforcement and emergency responders.
“We ask the private sector to utilize their creativity in solving our problem,” said Steve Claassen, Sedgwick County facilities director.
The current training center, for Wichita police officers and Sedgwick County sheriff’s deputies, has been housed at a former elementary school since 1985. The school was built in 1958.
Elected county officials and appointed staff members, along with their city counterparts, have long called for a replacement for a building considered aging and insufficient for law enforcement.
“Disasters need first responders on the ground that have worked together, trained together and understand each other’s protocols instantly,” Commissioner Tim Norton said at a county commission meeting in early August.
The county took the lead in crafting and publishing the request for proposals, with meetings between city and county staff members during the process. It issued the request Friday.
“This is our No. 1 priority, and we’re going to move forward and get this issue addressed,” said Chairman Richard Ranzau.
The county’s approved 2016 budget included $2.65 million for the center. That was a reduction in funding by $350,000.
Since the city of Wichita will also pay for the center, Claassen said, the final cost of the project is unknown.
Different options have been proposed with varying price tags. Renovating soon-to-be-vacated Southeast High School for the center could cost $7 million. Constructing a facility near a Kansas National Guard center north of Wichita originally was estimated at $30 million.
Wichita Mayor Jeff Longwell said the facility needs to be top-tier no matter its location.
“I’m not willing to compromise on my standards for a first-rate facility,” Longwell said. “We’re not going to get in an inferior facility just because we don’t believe we can afford it at this time.”
Option: Former boys’ ranch
Finding a new training home for law enforcement has been a local issue for more than a decade.
“I was told it actually preceded the horrible events on Sept. 11, 2001, so I know it goes back quite a ways,” Commissioner Karl Peterjohn said.
Norton said the center was originally going to be a larger facility that would serve federal and state law enforcement as well.
“It’s sad we didn’t go ahead with that grander vision that would have made us a national hub for homeland preparedness and training,” Norton said.
“The vision has degenerated down to ‘let’s try to find a building for law enforcement,’ ” he said.
The request for proposals says the training center would need about 51,038 square feet of space. It would include conference rooms, classrooms, locker rooms, a fitness room, a gymnasium and various training rooms.
Using space at the Kansas National Guard’s Heartland Preparedness Center at K-96 and I-135 or remodeling Southeast High School, which will vacate its building after this school year, could still be options.
“In fact, we’re hoping that those will be some of the responses,” Claassen said.
“We do have some information of those (locations) already, which we could use in our comparison of the different proposals.”
The county would also consider a plan that would modify the shuttered Judge Riddel Boys Ranch, a Lake Afton residential facility for youth offenders. Sedgwick County closed the ranch last year and still owns the property.
“(Commissioners) have asked that be included as an option,” Claassen said. “A majority see that facility as one that has value and is an asset.
“There are reasons why the Law Enforcement Training Center might work well at a somewhat remote place like that,” Claassen added.
The law enforcement training center now is at 2235 W. 37th St. North.
‘Find a resolution to this’
Claassen said the county typically doesn’t publish a request for proposals for facility upgrades.
“In the past, when the county had a need for a facility, we would go out and independently acquire a property or begin to work with an architect to actually design the facility,” he said.
Commissioner Jim Howell said issuing a request for proposals is the best way forward.
“A request for proposal gets all the options on the table side by side,” he said. “You can see the merits of each project or proposal side by side, including the costs of those choices.”
In June, city officials agreed to let the county write the request. Staff members from the city and county got to review a draft request in late July.
Longwell said he probably wishes city staff members had had more input.
“Our staff did get a chance to provide some input,” Longwell said. “I don’t know if we’re 100 percent satisfied, but we’ll see where it goes.”
Proposals to build a new center are due Nov. 24. The contract negotiation process could last until next spring. The city and county plan to vote on a final contract in March and April, respectively.
“The RFP process is going to find a resolution to this. Finally,” Howell said.
Longwell said the city and the county need to work together to make sure they get the best shared facility possible.
“We can’t do this alone, and we shouldn’t do this alone.”