Building committee meeting canceled, but not before DCF lease details get distributed

UPDATED — A meeting of the Joint Committee on State Building Construction was canceled at the last minute Tuesday, but not before a sheet detailing a Department for Children and Families move was distributed.

“This is appalling,” Rep. Jim Ward, D-Wichita and a committee member, says of the lease numbers he saw on the sheet.

Nine state agencies, including more than 700 employees, are leaving the city-owned Finney State Office Building. More than 550 of those employees are with the DCF.

In February, Have You Heard? reported that the DCF was close to signing a deal for space that the U.S. Postal Service is vacating at 2601 S. Oliver. A story last week detailed how the possible lease wasn’t as close to being finalized as some had thought.

“It’s our intention to move into the postal service building,” DCF spokeswoman Theresa Freed says. “The plan’s not finalized, so as I mentioned before, we can’t discuss the details of the pending contract.”

She does say, though, that the DCF is negotiating to remain in the Finney building an extra nine months after its lease expires at the end of September.

“We’ve been very appreciative of the cooperation between our staff and the city of Wichita to make that happen,” Freed says.

Ward is not appreciative of any part of the deal.

“They totally ignored the people of Wichita,” he says of the “number of voices from Wichita that said this move doesn’t make any sense.”

According to the sheet that was distributed at the committee meeting, which didn’t happen because the Senate was still in session, the postal center lease would cost $13.14 a square foot, or about $1.28 million a year.

The sheet compares the new lease amount to what it has been paying at the Finney building. However, the city has offered to slash the Finney lease rate to $6 a square foot if the DCF were to stay.

When that’s the comparison, Ward says. that means the DCF will be paying “about half a million dollars more a year” or about $12 million over the course of the 20-year lease.

He says that’s in “a time when we don’t have $12 million” and “the state is struggling to meet its obligations.”

The lease price isn’t Ward’s only concern.

“I still have questions, like how much are moving expenses?” he says. “And what is the public information campaign that they’re going to run so that the people who use those services … know where they’re at and how they can get there?

“I hope it’s more than just a sign on the door that says, ‘We’ve moved to …’ ”

Ward says the agency serves critical needs and has a duty to inform the public where it can find those services.

“They need to have a plan.”

In a follow-up e-mail, Freed wrote that “this decision is about finding a facility that helps us serve our clients best. The proposed single level building offers us maximum flexibility over time, has free surface parking and is more secure. The City of Wichita has been gracious and generous in attempting to make FSOB suitable for our current service delivery needs. We are confident the new location is in the best long-term interest of our clients, our employees and Kansas taxpayers.”