Sedgwick County commissioners have postponed a decision on a new training center for Wichita police officers and county sheriff’s deputies until after a meeting with city leaders.
They voted for the delay Wednesday after a lengthy discussion on the cost of the center, the integrity of the selection process and fire training needs.
Last week, the county’s bid board recommended a $9.5 million proposal from MWCB, LLC to put the law enforcement training center at Wichita State University’s Innovation Campus.
Commissioners raised concerns that that option cost about $3 million more than the least-expensive alternative.
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They also criticized Wichita Mayor Jeff Longwell for pushing for the WSU option before the county bid board made its official recommendation. Longwell’s March 10 announcement prompted Sedgwick County to extend the negotiation period.
“It’s problematic, I think, when elected officials make public statements about one particular choice prior to the procedure following course,” Commissioner Richard Ranzau said. “I think it’s premature, inappropriate and brings significant harm to the integrity of the process.”
Chairman Jim Howell also said he had encouraged Longwell not to make that “unilateral announcement.”
Longwell said his announcement didn’t affect the bid board’s process because he spoke “after they had already reviewed all the proposals and graded them.”
County staff chose the proposal because it best met the criteria for the project, which include parking, location and time line of availability. MWCB, led by David Murfin, Nestor Weigand Jr., Ivan Crossland Jr. and Steven Barrett, submitted the $9.5 million proposal.
Purchasing director Joe Thomas said the cost of proposals is an important factor in their decisions, but not necessarily the deciding factor.
Howell said they’ll choose a place for the center soon.
“It’s not as easy to pick one (proposal) off the page,” Howell said. “I don’t know that one week makes a ton of difference.”
But it’s another delay in the years-long effort to move law enforcement training out of an aging former elementary school built in the 1950s.
“This is something that is not new by any stretch of the imagination,” Commissioner Karl Peterjohn said.
Fire training part of conversation
Howell said the cost of the law enforcement training center could limit the county’s options down the line for better training facilities for Sedgwick County Fire District 1. He decried an emerging “public safety disparity between Wichita and Sedgwick County.”
“The training that (Wichita firefighters) have is in a state-of-the-art facility.” Howell said. “It has been unfortunate for Sedgwick County firefighters that we have not had the chance to access the facility the way we would like to. … It’s unfortunate for Sedgwick County firefighters that we train in parks and parking lots.”
Longwell said county firefighters already train at the city-owned Wichita Regional Fire Training Center.
“We’re willing to try to accommodate them. Understand that we built the (fire) training center for our needs, not for our needs plus their needs,” Longwell said. “We are not going to jeopardize our fire department’s ability to have first-class training.”
The commission voted 3-2 to request a meeting with Wichita City Council members over general public safety issues, including the law enforcement training center and more joint training for their fire departments.
Commissioners Dave Unruh and Tim Norton voted no, saying that meeting should focus on the law enforcement training center.
Dave Thompson, president of the Sedgwick County firefighters union, said the firefighters care more about better wages than a new training facility. He added that some county firefighters were training at the city’s fire training center that morning.
“Training is not an issue for us at all,” Thompson said. “They literally piled us on as an excuse. … It’s ill will and ill-supportive of public safety and our law enforcement personnel in Sedgwick County not to give them the (law enforcement training) facility that’s been recommended.”