If only every interaction between the governments of Wichita and Sedgwick County could be as harmonious and fruitful as Tuesday’s joint meeting of the City Council and County Commission, which ended 17 years of indecision about a new joint law enforcement training center.
The 7-0 and 5-0 votes were the first joint step to building a $9.5 million facility at Wichita State University’s Innovation Campus that also will house the university’s criminal justice program. At the same meeting, the council and commission formalized a partnership on the use of the city-owned firefighting facility – a surprisingly prompt resolution of an issue raised just last week by Commission Chairman Jim Howell.
Credit is due all those involved in the law enforcement training issue who kept the focus on the need, which was obvious in the photographs shown to the group by Wichita Police Chief Gordon Ramsay. Housing the program in a former elementary school might have made sense in 1985, when the arrangement was only meant to last five years. Three decades later, the building’s leaky roof, rusted windows, original boiler, undrinkable water and other challenges have made it urgent to find an alternative.
Though several of the officials noted the savings of the WSU project compared with an earlier $30 million proposal to build at the Heartland Preparedness Center at K-96 and I-135, nothing in Tuesday’s discussion directly addressed how the least expensive proposal in the county’s more recent bidding process fell short.
The advantages of building at WSU were clear, however.
Officials think the new facility will be able to generate revenue by hosting training for other agencies, while tapping into the WSU student enrollment for recruitment and enabling training of more officers for Wichita and especially detention deputies for Sedgwick County.
As County Sheriff Jeff Easter noted, the move also will allow the program to use WSU’s Heskett Center and other campus facilities for graduations and more.
Many potential complications lie ahead, as can be expected when two governments collaborate with private partners on a construction project on a state university campus. And it seems strange that the opportunity for public input won’t come until later.
Still, Tuesday’s agreement – which came during National Police Week – is a big deal for the community. Local taxpayers can hope it will lead not only to the opening of the first-class law enforcement training center as soon as possible, but to more efforts by the city and county to streamline operations, pool resources and share services.