WICHITA, Kan. (KSNW) – It has been three years since Judge Riddel’s Boys Ranch, a place that helped troubled kids, closed its doors.
Now, the Sedgwick County Commission is entertaining the idea of demolishing the facility.
Sedgwick County Commissioner Michael O’Donnell says it would cost a couple hundred thousand dollars to make the necessary upgrades to the facility and says no bidder has come forward, willing to invest in turning the building around.
O’Donnell says the county has been paying $3,000 a month the past three years to keep electricity and security going at the facility.
He says several options have been explored to try to re-open it in the past three years, but there were lots of obstacles to overcome.
“There is a whole lot of compliance issues, just the basic ADA compliance issues, the facility being vacant for a few years, it’s deteriorating,” said O’Donnell.
O’Donnell says the county is also hamstrung on what they can do with the building.
“There are restrictions that the federal government said we invested money into this ranch, you cannot turn it over without our approval, and so it would take an act of Congress to allow us to do something with it,” said O’Donnell.
O’Donnell says part of the decline with the boys ranch dealt with moving away from the model of youth facilities and transitioning more to what he calls in-community and in-home service.
Terry Atwater is the Executive Director of It Takes A Village, a transitional home for boys, ages 17 to 23.
“We put together a plan, a model if you will, to get them out of the system and give them the life skills from cooking to cleaning to job preparation, to how to rent an apartment,” said Atwater.
Atwater says he currently houses seven boys between two homes, who are overseen by 14 staff members around the clock.
“We wanted to provide a place where the young men could call home, the opportunity to say I have a home, I have my own bedroom,” said Atwater.
It’s this kind of model that O’Donnell says is still helping meet the need for Sedgwick County.
“The ultimate goal is the same, and that is to get these troubled youths on the right path,” said O’Donnell.
O’Donnell says if they go through with demolishing the facility, they will raze all the facilities out there and then turn it back into Lake Afton park land.
The Judge Riddel Boys Ranch was opened back in 1961.
It was operated by Sedgwick County, for the state of Kansas.
In 2012, lawmakers in Topeka cut funding for the ranch, forcing it to close in 2014.
During its time, the ranch helped as many as 6,000 boys.
A Wichita State University study found that the ranch saved Sedgwick County about a million dollars each year in crimes being avoided, because kid were being rehabilitated.