Latest delay on training center makes sense

The current joint law enforcement training center has heating, cooling, sewage backup, asbestos, roofing and other problems.
The current joint law enforcement training center has heating, cooling, sewage backup, asbestos, roofing and other problems.

At 17 years and counting, the pace of progress toward a new joint law enforcement training center for the Wichita Police Department and Sedgwick County Sheriff’s Office remains glacial. But it was hard to argue with much of what prompted the County Commission to vote Wednesday to delay a decision and seek a joint meeting with the Wichita City Council on the center and other shared public safety needs.

Another wait will be worthwhile if it means both governments can move forward together and the public can trust the decision.

Good questions have been asked, including from the County Commission bench, about the momentum toward building a $9.5 million facility on Wichita State University’s Innovation Campus to train not only city and county law enforcement officers but also tie in with WSU’s criminal justice program.

Mayor Jeff Longwell announced in March that the city wanted to build the center at WSU, which anticipates a three-story, 60,000-square-foot facility on the northeast part of the campus. Last week, after a lengthy county bidding process, the county bid board recommended the WSU project.

But why did the bid board reject the lowest bid for one $3.3 million higher? And shouldn’t county staff have visited the site proposed in the lowest of the four bids, or at least reached out to communicate with Steve Martens and others involved in the bid? As Commissioner Richard Ranzau said, the public should know the criteria favoring a higher bid and be able to trust that the outcome wasn’t predetermined.

Wednesday’s commission discussion raised more questions, including about the county’s use of two evaluation teams and whether Longwell speaks for the entire City Council. The process could use a joint city-county public meeting, as well as formal votes by both governing bodies.

And will the needed Kansas Board of Regents approval be harder to get with state universities having just been targeted by the Legislature for another $17 million budget cut?

The trick will be not allowing the whole city-county partnership to break down because of politics and County Commission Chairman Jim Howell’s expansion of the conversation Wednesday to include firefighter training.

Failure to agree soon on a joint law enforcement training center sentences the Police Department and Sheriff’s Office to more time training at a former elementary school at I-235 and Meridian with heating, cooling, sewage backup, asbestos, roofing and other problems.

Whatever happens, both governments need to stick with the partnership that has served officers’ readiness and public safety so well for 30 years. As Sedgwick County Sheriff Jeff Easter puts it: “We need to be housed together and trained together. Period.”