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Sedgwick County will issue request for proposals for Judge Riddel Boys Ranch

Published on -7/1/2014, 11:39 AM

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By Deb Gruver

The Wichita Eagle

(MCT) Sedgwick County will issue a request for proposals to gauge interest in the Judge Riddel Boys Ranch at Lake Afton.

"We have two inquiries about the use of that property," County Manager William Buchanan told commissioners Tuesday morning.

The ranch for troubled boys is slated to close next month.

Buchanan has declined to identify who has approached the county about taking over the ranch and what their plans for the property would be. The Eagle filed a request Monday under the Kansas Open Records Act for any e-mails, letters or informal or formal proposals to the county from groups interested in the ranch.

The ranch, built in 1960, is situated on the southwest corner of Lake Afton Park and covers 40 acres. The ranch includes a main building described as suited for offices and dorm rooms, a detached full-size gym, a workshop, sheds and other outbuildings. It also features a swimming pool.

Besides offices, the 42,000-square-foot main building includes a commercial kitchen, a cafeteria, a library and recreation room, laundry facilities and a maintenance workshop.

The ranch is in disrepair and the county has estimated it would cost $14.7 million to replace it. The county estimated last year that the ranch needed a minimum of $2.6 million in repairs. A report Buchanan passed out to commissioners Tuesday noted the ranch's boilers and hot water systems "have seen 47 years of service in a harsh environment and have met their intended life cycles." The sewer "is in poor condition with cracks" and root infiltration, the report said. The ranch also "has many significant ADA (Americans with Disabilities Act) compliance issues," the report said. The property also has asbestos and lead paint.

The last boys at the ranch are scheduled to leave the third week of this month.

But candidates for commission seats, including current commissioner Richard Ranzau, have said they would be interested in re-opening the ranch in January. The board's majority, which supported closing the ranch, could change next year. Ranzau told the Wichita Pachyderm Club that if Rep. Jim Howell, who is seeking the District 5 seat being vacated by Jim Skelton, is elected, he would push to re-open the ranch. He later said he would do the same if Derby Mayor Dion Avello, also running for District 5, had interest. All of the commission candidates interviewed last week, including Ranzau's opponents Sen. Carolyn McGinn and former state legislator and commissioner Melody McCray-Miller, said they would be open to discussing the ranch's future.

That has complicated matters for the county.

"There's some confusion about how to proceed," Buchanan said.

Buchanan asked Commissioner Karl Peterjohn, who opposed closing the ranch, what his intentions would be in January.

"Depending on who gets elected, there could be a whole host of different faces on the commission come January," Peterjohn said.

He later stressed he was against shuttering the ranch.

Commissioner Tim Norton said questioned the importance of the property itself.

"Are the programs what makes (the ranch) special, or is it the facility that makes it special," he asked. "I think we're holding on to a facility for no good reason. The programs are what saves boys' lives, not going out to Lake Afton."

(c)2014 The Wichita Eagle

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