Kingman County to pay cash for jail project

Jun 28, 2019

KINGMAN – After ballots to build a new Kingman County law enforcement center and jail failed in 2013 and 2014, the Kingman County Commission is moving toward a cheaper addition/remodeling alternative that will be financed by cash and won’t require voter approval.  Commissioner Jerry Henning said the commission’s vote on the final plan should occur in mid-July and construction could start in the fall.  “It’s going to be better than we have by a long shot,” Kingman County Sheriff Randy Hill said of the improvements to be financed by a commission-set $5-million spending cap.  Still, Hill is concerned that the site is in a flood plain and the finished project will leave law enforcement continuing to face storage and office space issues.

Former County Commissioner Carol Voran, who lost to Henning in 2016, is concerned the county could leave itself in a bad cash situation. She also thinks the loss of some parking spaces and the limitations for future expansion are factors that make the addition/remodel not the best option.  You can’t go back to the voters a third time, Henning said, so they started looking at this alternative in fall 2018. It will cost less than half the 2013 ballot proposal.  “This is what we’re going with,” Henning said Thursday.

Need for space

The Kingman County Jail dates back to 1959 and initially had eight beds. Common for that time, the original structure also contained a residence for the sheriff and his family.  Over time, the jail was closed and the cells were replaced. The sheriff stopped living there and the property also became home in the 1980s to a Law Enforcement Center for the Sheriff Department, Kingman City Police Department, and the 911 emergency dispatch center.  Today, the county and city have about eight officers each. There also are five jail officers in the Sheriff Department, and seven employees in the dispatch center, and two records clerks.  One of the old bedrooms in what would have been the sheriff’s residence is used as office space for deputies and storage space for files.  Every nook and cranny is used for storage, Sheriff Hill noted during a tour of the Law Enforcement Center and Jail. Even a restroom contained files.

“All the rooms we have now are multipurpose,” he said.  An interview room is used for inmate-attorney discussions, and for interviews of suspects and for interviews of victims. The absence of a full-fledged kitchen means inmate meals are heated and served.  The basement has the standard utilities as well as now, computer technology equipment. This spring, water seeped into the basement due to a rising water table. If water pipes burst, Hill noted, computer equipment is vulnerable.  The 13-bed jail has three cells that accommodate four inmates, and another cell for one person.  Women and men cannot be housed together. Those people in jail on felonies and those being housed for misdemeanors, those only charged and awaiting trial and those people convicted – all increase the need for more separate cells, Hill pointed out.

Voters say no

In October 2013, a county sales tax ballot to finance an entirely new law enforcement center/jail lost, 754-803.  The outcome was so close, said Kingman County Clerk Carol Noblit, that the county returned to voters in April 2014 with a proposal that also relied on sales tax and also would have been new construction at a location away from the current facility. It failed by a larger margin, Noblit said, of the 680-774 outcome.  The current commission – Henning, John Steffen, and Fred Foley – has a new strategy.

They decided to save payment-in-lieu-of-taxes income from two wind farms for the project, Noblit said. Money in the pool eyed for this project totaled $4,173,042.45 as of this week. There will be payments coming in this year, according to Noblit.  The commissioners told the builders the overall project spending cap is $5 million, Noblit said.

The first part would be the construction of the addition, producing a jail with approximately 24 beds in a modern pod design instead of the linear jail cell design. Pods enable better views into cells, enhancing security.  Reconstruction of the existing building for office space will be done next, with work carried out in alignment with receipt of the payments from the wind farms.

LK Architecture, with The Law Company Inc., Wichita, was chosen for the design-build project.

“Right now,” Noblit said, they are “trying to get us a budget.”  County Commission Chairman Steffen said he didn’t want to make a comment on another elected official’s statements, referring to Sheriff Hill’s concerns about the plan.  The commission, Steffen said, considered the existing building next to the Courthouse “a good location.” “You can walk a prisoner across the parking lot to go to the Courthouse,” said Commissioner Henning.

The $5-million price tag for the addition and renovation “is just what we felt like we should spend,” Steffen said. Of the 1959 structure, Steffen said, “It’s just pretty solid.”  Henning said the plan gives law enforcement what it wanted: More space, better safety, and a jail that will allow for segregation of inmates.

It accomplishes that without a tax increase, Henning said. “We can’t keep raising taxes,” Henning said and running people out of town, he said.

The addition will be built high enough to address the flood plain concerns, according to officials. As for parking, Henning said he doesn’t think that will be an issue. Kingman County is not growing, Henning said, and he regards a 24-bed jail as sufficient.  Henning said they hope to have the overall project completed by spring 2021 – “if our funds come in,” he said.


Sheriff Hill said commissioners have heard his concerns.  Ideally, a new facility would be built outside the flood plain, with enough jail capacity for the future, and sufficient storage and office space to meet present and future needs, he said.  The new jail won’t have a kitchen for food preparation, and with limited refrigeration and freezer space and with a likely growing inmate population in the future, officers will have to increase the frequency of their trips to the store to buy supplies, Hill expects.

Voran is not convinced voters would have rejected the issuance of bonds to build a bigger jail at a different location. She cited the example of Reno County.  In 2006, voters nixed a ballot to build a 208-bed jail north of the Reno County Courthouse at the Courthouse complex. But in 2013, voters approved a more costly plan to build a 250-bed jail on vacant land away from the Courthouse.  As planning for the Kingman County project nears finalization, one interested party is the Kansas Historical Society.  The neighboring Kingman County Courthouse, over 100 years old, is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

“We have received calls from a few concerned citizens about the proposed LEC/Jail project so it would reassure folks if we can sign off on the plans,” Katrina Ringler, preservation office supervisor with the Kansas Historical Society, wrote The News in a response.  Technically, a review is not required unless the construction will take place on the listed property, but because the Courthouse and LEC/Jail share the same plot of ground, the definition of “property” could be interpreted different ways, Ringler wrote.

The Courthouse has a limestone base topped by red bricks. Henning said the plan calls for stone on the bottom of the addition with brick on top.

Original Article

The Leavenworth Times
By:  Mary Clarkin