WICHITA, Kan. (KSNW) — Sedgwick County Commissioners have a big decision to make and, whatever they decide, it is going to cost the county a lot of money.
Seven county departments have to move out of the Sedgwick County Courthouse into temporary space because the courthouse is being heavily remodeled to add more space for the court system.
The decision the Board of County Commissioners (BoCC) has to make is where those departments will end up in the long run. Will the BoCC choose to build a whole new administrative building or remodel an existing county building?
The courthouse remodeling project has already been approved. The $7.019M project will start in 2022. It includes adding extra courtrooms on the seventh, eighth and ninth floors and appellate space on the 11th floor. In addition, the second and third floors will be remodeled to add administrative space for the district attorney’s office.
To make room for the new court space, seven county departments have to move out of the building and into leased space: the BoCC, county clerk, county treasurer, register of deeds, finance, county counselor, county manager, and all the workers in those departments. The goal is to have those departments in the leased office space between April and June 2022. The county is currently looking at seven different options for places to lease.
While they are in their temporary offices, the goal is to start work on a new permanent space for them. Tuesday morning, Assistant County Manager Tania Cole and Justin Graham, a vice president with SJCF Architecture in Wichita, presented the BoCC with five options.
Option 1 calls for demolishing the courthouse annex and rebuilding it into a several-story building. The estimated cost is $27.197M.
This option is a variation of Option 1. Instead of demolishing the annex, the several-story building would be built around it. The estimated cost is $25.981M.
This option would expand the new administrative building over what is currently Elm Street. Elm would close, and a roundabout, seen in the red area, would be added. This plan is expected to cost $24.654M.
This is the first option that puts the administrative building on a new site. The building would be located north of the current Sedgwick County jail. Some commissioners expressed concern that it would limit any future expansion of the jail. Other commissioners said that current projects designed to help inmates with mental health issues should decrease the jail population and make expansion unnecessary. Option 3 would cost $26.471M.
This plan would put the administrative building on the southwest corner of Main and Third Street and add a new parking garage. This plan is estimated to cost $31.955M.
Each option would also add a 10% contingency to the cost to account for inflation and $6M for costs like architectural and engineering services, furniture, fixtures and equipment.
In previous years, the county has considered using existing space in the downtown area, such as Gander Mountain, the Murfin Building, or the Epic Tower. However, the county did not go with those options for various reasons. Cole said the costs of those buildings when considered in 2018 and 2019, would be much higher in 2022.
The county would like to have the new administrative building done before the end of 2024. It wants to use American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) funds to pay for the leasing of the temporary offices. ARPA funding would end on Dec. 31, 2024.
During Tuesday’s meeting, the commissioners acknowledged that a decision would need to be made soon.
They were also concerned about the cost, but county officials said its economic forecast could absorb the cost and handle the extra expense without much problem.
County Commissioner Jim Howell asked for Cole and her team to look at existing office space in the downtown area and report back to the BoCC.
Howell and Commissioners Lacey Cruse and Sarah Lopez all said that if they had to make an immediate decision, they would favor Option 1A.
Commissioner David Dennis said he likes Option 4 despite the cost because it is the least disruptive and has the most flexibility.