Progress on city-county facilities

A request-for-proposal process is underway for a new joint law enforcement training center.
A request-for-proposal process is underway for a new joint law enforcement training center.

Though Sedgwick County leaders get no points for speed, they at last are moving things along on facilities to train law enforcement officers and house city-county code enforcement and planning.

▪  A request-for-proposal process is underway for a new joint law enforcement training center, with the county taking the lead in a planning step that its officials emphasize has involved staffs of both the county and the city of Wichita.

It’s arguable whether an RFP was needed for a project that’s been on the drawing board for 16 years. That’s not usually the way the county handles facilities upgrades. But gathering private-sector proposals through Nov. 24, with a goal of signing a final contract next spring, should build the trust of elected officials and the public while advancing this collaboration.

Renovating part of Wichita Southeast High School, which USD 259 will replace with a new facility next fall, still seems a worthy option. But it’s also smart to find out whether the former Judge Riddel Boys Ranch at Lake Afton could work (it’s already owned by the county, which is a plus, but could need costly improvements) and see what else might be suitable and affordable.

One question concerns the resources available, especially with the County Commission having just scaled back the project’s funding for 2016 by $350,000 to a total $2.65 million. To their credit, both governments’ leaders say that joint training is essential to public safety and a new center is a top priority, given the leaky roof, bad plumbing and other challenges of the old elementary school at 37th Street North and Meridian that’s served as the center since 1985.

•  Last week the county issued a request for proposal for a “move in ready building” with about 33,000 square feet that could house the Metropolitan Area Builders and Construction Department and Metropolitan Area Planning Department. The county also is open to striking a deal involving a trade or renovation of the former IRS building at 271 W. Third St.

Though the county purchased the building for $4.9 million last year for the combined city-county code and planning departments and some other county offices, the current County Commission majority disliked the deal and put the brakes on its estimated $4.6 million remodeling. The RFP and its accelerated timeline, with a Sept. 29 deadline and October contract signing, at least reflect the urgency of getting the MABCD and MAPD under the same roof while deciding the future of what’s now called the “271 Building.” Two concerns: that the two years the 271 Building has been vacant not lead to many more and further condition problems, and that county leaders not forget it was supposed to provide a better downtown tag office than the current 200 W. Murdock. That crowded facility’s customers and employees need a solution, and soon.

Politics, money and lack of interest from the private sector could mean further delays for these two vital city-county projects. But the recent efforts to get them sited and open are encouraging.

For the editorial board, Rhonda Holman