WICHITA, Kan. (KSNW) – The Sedgwick County Commission decided to tear down a longtime ranch for troubled boys. The commission voted Wednesday to approve contracts to remove asbestos and then demolish the Judge Riddel Boys Ranch near Goddard. The property will be returned to park land for Lake Afton Park.
The vote Wednesday was three to two and District 5’s county commissioner, Jim Howell, who voted to keep it open says this decision was about politics.
“This is kind of the poster child or epitome of bad government,” said Howell. ” When we don’t have decision authority; have a multi-million dollar tax payer owned facility that could do good for our community, but we don’t actually have the authority to make that happen, we are basically pushed into a corner with big government.”
The decision comes after years of debate on the fate of the ranch, which opened in the 1960s. It was owned by the state but operated by Sedgwick County. The center closed in 2014 after the state refused to increase payments to help the county fund operations. A decision Dave Unruh says was necessary for the budget, adding that even though the ranch is closed to the public, there are still monthly costs to keep the building standing.
“Leaving the ranch up costs us over a $1,000 a month, just in maintenance and electricity,” explained Unruh. “I think the smart thing to do is turn it back into park land.”
Unruh tells KSN that they did try to sell and lease the property since the close but could not find anyone that was willing to take on the task. Commissioners who supported the demolition said it would cost too much to repair and renovate the youth residential center. However, Howell says the millions of dollars that were quoted to keep the ranch open, was a stretch.
“It’s been said that it’s been very expensive to remodel and renovate the facility; I think that’s misinformation,” said Howell. “What it really needs is a roof repair and a new sewer line which would probably cost about $150,000 in actually necessary spending. Everything else, in my opinion is a policy decision.”
The facility is set to be demolished within the next three months. We can expect to see the park replacement by the end of 2017.