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The Department of Health is among the top real estate concerns in Saline County

Among other county properties, the dilapidated state of the Department of Health building at 125 West Elm Street in Salina has become a concern to the County Board of Commissioners.

It was a topic that took up about 30 minutes of a two-hour conceptual discussion of what future plans might look like at the county’s 14 different campuses, or property groups, on Tuesday.

No official action was taken during the study session-style meeting, but the County Commission provided input on its priorities and provided some unofficial guidance to staff on what to pursue in the near future.

County Administrator Phillip Smith-Hanes began the morning with a brief overview of each property or group of properties.

“I went through the (properties) … with some of the challenges and opportunities each presents, what kinds of current situations we find ourselves in, and what is recommended for many of them outside of the facility’s master plan,” Smith-Hanes he said.

With several properties on their radar under the plan, some have made it onto the commissioners’ top priority list. Here are some highlights from their discussion:

Saline County Department of Health

The Department of Health building, originally constructed in 1917, is the second oldest building owned by the county.

But county officials have described it as “all old and nothing pretty,” a phrase Smith-Hanes said accurately describes where the county currently stands with the building.

The county continues to struggle with roof-top water intrusion, despite having done extensive work to address the problem, and dated building design has resulted in overwhelming space constraints.

Other issues identified in Tuesday’s meeting were a lack of room for expansion and lack of flow throughout the building.

The commissioners discussed several options, such as moving the health department into existing county-owned space or expanding on site.

Department of Health Director Jason Tiller said he was recently approached about purchasing nearby property that is physically connected to the Department of Health building. However, it has similar problems to the current health department building.

The Commission was apparently adamant not to buy a building with similar problems.

“I’ve lived here all my life, and Saline County is known for putting Band-Aids on things,” Commissioner Bob Vidricksen said. “I think, without knowing anything on the surface right now, buying the building next to an already run-down building wouldn’t be the best.”

Commissioner Joe Hay nodded in agreement.

“I look at it as instead of buying the property next door to them, just selling the health department building,” Commissioner Monte Shadwick said.

The current recommendations in the facility master plan promote the design and construction of a new facility.

City-County Building

As part of the state budget for the previous fiscal year, funding was provided to the Judiciary Branch to increase the number of district court judges statewide. The funding brought two new district judges and a magistrate judge to the 28th Judicial District, which is housed in the City-County Building.

In turn, the county had to undergo a third-floor renovation project of the building, a process that began last September and is still ongoing.

Moreover:Saline County will remodel part of the city’s county building for the new justices

However, it was an unfunded state mandate, which Smith-Hanes said will cost the county about $3.25 million to complete.

Perhaps most vocal on this issue has been Vidricksen, who has expressed frustration with the state and gratitude to the county for having resources available for the project.

“I would like to remind the public that this is not something – a renovation job that we just decided we wanted to build bigger and better offices and so on,” he said at a weekly committee meeting last October. “This was requested – requested by Saline County, by the state of Kansas, to add two judges to our courtroom system…and we need to expand; we have no choice.”

The county was tasked with identifying space for seven new judicial staff and two new jury-ready courtrooms, which moved some existing county offices into the City-County Building.

During their conceptual discussion, the committee briefly discussed other challenges to the City-County Building.

These included: the need to expand the courthouse, the need to store voting equipment, better flow between related offices, and the need for improved security.

County staff recommended forming a task force to look into construction options.

Sheriff’s office and jail

In January, the county sent out a survey to its residents for feedback on potential options to reuse the existing county jail building as the new jail moves towards completion. From January 18 to February 3, a total of 1,234 people completed the survey. A breakdown of survey responses can be viewed here.

The new facility will be occupied by the end of 2023, so exploring a timely plan for reuse occupied much of the conversation on Tuesday.

Commissioners considered suggestions from the public survey and some opportunities that have only recently become available.

Three main points of discussion included:

  • The Municipality of Salina could expand its police department
  • Court services need temporary space
  • Explore the opportunity of a youth center with an external body

Long-term possibilities discussed by the committee beyond reuse options include building lease, demolition, or renovation.

But remodeling is a costly possibility that the commission seemed to avoid considering further.

“It’s good that we’re getting community input… some of these ideas are great, but people are making suggestions for things and they have no idea how much they’re going to cost,” Vidricksen said.

All of the commissioners had good things to say about exploring criminal justice reuse options.

“I’d like to explore the juvenile detention part and if that’s not a possibility, I think one of the best options out there is to put (Requests for Proposals) out there and see if anyone would get in where they’re not going to cost the county that kind of money,” Hay said.

Current recommendations under the facility’s master plan include first examining criminal justice use, if not all space is being used, conducting requests for proposals, and if no one is responding to RFPs, demolishing the building .

Kendrick Calfee has been a reporter for the Salina Journal since 2022, primarily covering county government and education. You can reach him at [email protected] or on Twitter @calfee_kc.

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