Sedgwick County and Wichita have been discussing a new joint law enforcement training center for 17 years. Surely its future should be decided and announced jointly.
Yet Mayor Jeff Longwell declared Thursday that the city wants a new joint training center on the Innovation Campus at Wichita State University, which touted the detailed proposal in a news release. Meanwhile, the County Commission said it’s still assessing the four submitted plans resulting from a request-for-proposals process and on Monday even extended negotiations with bidders two more months, until May 18.
The mayor’s news conference showed the two local governments still out of step on replacing the current facility at I-235 and Meridian, a former elementary school that has faced serious heating, cooling, sewage backup, asbestos, roofing and other problems. There have been differences of opinion about the future training facility for a number of years, since the county balked at the $30 million cost of building at the Heartland Preparedness Center at K-96 and I-135.
Though the mayor said “we want to be transparent and inclusive with the community about the prospects and progress of this facility,” his announcement left citizens to wonder about a number of things, including whether political agreement is likely on the WSU building’s proposed $9.5 million cost in an especially tightfisted time at the county.
A WSU project also requires the approval of the Kansas Board of Regents, which is under tremendous fiscal pressure from state government. Plans call for WSU to “pay maintenance fees for the building for the first five years at a cost of approximately $200,000 per year,” according to the university.
And whatever happened to affordable-sounding idea of using part of the soon-to-be-former Southeast High School at Lincoln and Edgemoor? One advantage of that site was that it would show the city, county and USD 259 partnering on a project in a neighborhood in underserved south Wichita.
Maybe this will all work out to the benefit of the Wichita Police Department, the Sedgwick County Sheriff’s Office, and WSU’s criminal justice program and its 500 students, as well as public safety and taxpayers.
That’s the hope – that Longwell’s decision to go out on a limb was more public relations than political brinkmanship.
What matters most is what Sedgwick County Sheriff Jeff Easter emphasized again Monday to The Eagle editorial board: “We need to be housed together and trained together. Period.”
It’s up to leaders of the two governments to resolve their political differences and follow through on this shared and increasingly urgent community priority – together.