The Kansas National Guard says it thinks it has room for the city of Wichita and Sedgwick County law enforcement officers to train in existing buildings at its Heartland Preparedness Center.
The Wichita Police Department and the Sedgwick County Sheriff’s Office had planned for years to build their own adjacent training facilities at the center at I-135 and K-96 to train alongside Guard members, but the county in particular has had second thoughts about the estimated $30 million price tag.
City and county officials have toured Wichita Southeast High School and three former Cessna buildings on 21st Street west of Grove as possible replacements for the aging building where police and sheriff’s deputies have trained for decades. City and county leaders have met multiple times during the past few years about a solution but haven’t reached one. They gathered at City Hall on Sept. 23 and said they would take 30 days to explore options. That deadline has passed.
“We’re on borrowed time,” Wichita City Council member Jeff Longwell said Monday.
The current training center is in a former school built in 1958 at 37th Street North and Meridian that is in unacceptable condition, elected officials say, with roofing and heating and cooling problems. In the winter, snow blows inside through windows, doors and skylights.
At the Sept. 23 meeting, Maj. Gen. Lee Tafanelli offered to allow county and city law enforcement officers to use the National Guard’s training facility on a temporary basis. Spokeswoman Sharon Watson said Monday that offer is still good and could be more than a temporary solution.
“Initially, the project was built with the idea of being a multiple facility training center for the Guard and local law enforcement. Now we believe we can meet the needs of the Guard and the city and county with the current facility,” Watson said in an e-mail to The Eagle. “We are still working with the city and county and discussing their space needs, so the details have not all been worked out yet. We do not have concerns about having the Guard and law enforcement use the same facility. Initially, we thought both the Guard and law enforcement would need more space, therefore more facilities, but that has changed and in our assessments now, we believe this facility can meet all of our needs.”
The city and county would lease space from the Kansas National Guard.
Leasing from the Guard might be a hard sell to the county, though.
“I think my commissioners are still pretty well convinced that the Heartland location is still not our best option,” said Dave Unruh, chairman of the Sedgwick County Commission. “I think the general consensus is leasing is not our best option, especially to a federal agency where we’ve already paid the taxes to build it.”
Longwell said Mayor Carl Brewer still wants to build at Heartland.
“I’m not sure that the county is wanting any part of that,” Longwell said. “If the county is not willing to join us to join them (the Guard), there’s not much ‘joint’ in there.”
Unruh said a space study is underway about what the county and city need and whether the current Southeast High School could meet their needs once the district closes that school.
He likes the Southeast option at Lincoln and Edgemoor. Southeast High is moving to a new building at 127th East and Pawnee in 2016.
“It keeps that community asset in use,” Unruh said. “I think we ought to have something worth talking about in a few weeks.”
Tony Kinkel, president of Wichita Area Technical College, said he also is interested in moving the college’s campus on 47th Street South to the Southeast site after the district closes the school. The college offers a law enforcement program, he said, and sharing space with the training center would make sense.
The Wichita school district is moving its administrative offices to Southeast as well.
“First and foremost, we recognize that building belongs to the school district,” Kinkel said. “They’ll be determining who will be their tenants. Having said that, we have always understood that the school district would maintain an administrative presence. We think that’s a good thing. That provides for synergy with our college. Number two, we have a very good law enforcement program. If the school district were to work with the city and county, we would certainly want to suggest that be done in partnership with our law enforcement program. I think there’s room for all of us to find a win-win.”