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.”

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Possible DCF lease on South Oliver may not be ‘at the goal line’

The U.S. Postal Service is vacating this building at 2601 S. Oliver, but whether the state Department for Children and Families moves in isn't as certain as it once was.

The U.S. Postal Service is vacating this building at 2601 S. Oliver, but whether the state Department for Children and Families moves in isn’t as certain as it once was.

UPDATED — In February, a state official told Have You Heard? that the Department for Children and Families was “at the goal line” for signing a deal for space that the U.S. Postal Service is vacating at 2601 S. Oliver.

Apparently, though, someone has moved the goal line. The players in the lineup may have changed, too.

“We’re still exploring all of our options and haven’t made a final determination on that yet,” says Theresa Freed, a DCF spokeswoman. “That is one of the options that we’re considering.”

That sounds a lot less certain than when Mark McGivern, director of the Office of Facilities and Procurement Management within the state Department of Administration, used the goal line analogy.

Does that mean the postal deal is less likely than it had been?

“I wouldn’t say that it is any more or less likely,” Freed says. “As a department, we don’t discuss contracts until they are finalized.”

In June, Have You Heard? reported that nine state agencies, including more than 700 employees, will leave the Finney building when the state’s lease expires on Sept. 30. More than 550 of those employees are with DCF.

The city presented the state with what a state spokesman called “a very aggressive lease renewal offer” last summer, but the spokesman said DCF has needs the Finney building can’t fulfill.

State Rep. Jim Ward, D-Wichita, has voiced concerns from the beginning regarding DCF and other agencies vacating the Finney building. He wonders what the holdup is now.

“That’s another concern in an ongoing series of concerns about how … good of a decision the move is in total,” he says.

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Mayor and governor meet about Finney State Office Building; state may be zeroing in on new DCF space

WICHITA — The state appears to be zeroing in on new space for the Department for Children and Families near East 47th Street South and South Oliver, even as Mayor Carl Brewer is working to try to keep the office where it is.

“I have been digging into this, and I have heard from reliable folks that the state is looking at (that building),” said Rep. Jim Ward (D-Wichita), who has been critical of a possible move.

Brewer went to Topeka on Wednesday to visit with Gov. Sam Brownback about keeping DCF and other state agencies in the Finney State Office Building at 230 E. William.

Last month, Have You Heard? reported that the state of Kansas has notified the city of Wichita that its nine agencies that occupy the downtown building won’t be renewing their leases after 20 years in the city-owned space. That means more than 700 people will be moving, more than 550 of whom are with DCF.

According to Loopnet, an online commercial real estate site, there’s a two-story, 100,000-square-foot former Bank of America call center that’s available near the southwest corner of the intersection, and it looks like that’s what the state could be interested in.

“I hope that that’s not true,” Ward said. “I don’t think that’s a good spot. … I don’t think that’s a good location for those kinds of services.”

One of his concerns is that Jezebel’s, an adult club, is across the street.

“It’s not unusual for kids to be part of their parents’ dealing with the state,” Ward said.

He also wonders how accessible the site would be compared to the more centralized Finney building.

Brewer didn’t return calls for comment. A representative of the governor’s office confirmed the meeting but wouldn’t say anything more.

“I know that the governor and Mayor Brewer did in fact meet this morning,” said spokeswoman Sara Belfry. “I believe they talked about a couple of things, including the Wichita office building.”

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Department for Children and Families explains search for new Wichita space

WICHITA — A spokeswoman for the Department for Children and Families, formerly known as SRS, says the Finney State Office Building in Wichita is no longer adequate for the agency.

On Monday, Have You Heard? reported that nine state agencies, including more than 700 employees, will leave the building at 230 E. William when the state’s lease expires on Sept. 30, 2014.

Rep. Jim Ward, D-Wichita, questioned the motives for leaving, and Department of Administration spokesman Chuck Knapp said each agency would have to explain for itself.

DCF has the largest presence in the building with more than 550 employees. DCF spokeswoman Theresa Freed was unavailable to comment at the time but is available now.

“The reason we’re leaving is that the facility doesn’t meet our needs anymore,” Freed says.

She says part of the issue is that the office is spread out over multiple floors.

“It’s difficult to, obviously, have to go between the floors for the clients and the staff.”

Freed says a change in the agency’s business model in which it tries to get immediate answers for people who apply for benefits is leading to something of a logjam in its lobby area.

“The lobby at that building just isn’t adequate,” she says.

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