County official: Innovation Campus building plan breaks law


The Law Enforcement Training Center is said to host classrooms for 500 criminal justice students. 

Wichita State is in the center of a controversy surrounding the bidding process on Innovation Campus.

Wednesday, Sedgwick County officials accused the city of Wichita of breaking the law with its plans for the Law Enforcement Training Center. The training center, set to open in the spring of next year, is planned as a training facility for Wichita and Sedgwick County law enforcement agencies. The building would also serve as the new home of WSU’s criminal justice department.

Construction on the training center began in December on the northeast corner of campus, behind the Marcus Welcome Center and Woodman Alumni Center. The proposal started as an idea by Michael Birzer, professor of criminal justice at Wichita State and director of the WSU School of Community Affairs. City and county law enforcement agencies, whose officers have been training in a former elementary school built in the 1950s, have been trying to find a new training center for years.

After a closed session with County Counselor Eric Yost, the Sedgwick County commission sent a letter to the city about the handling of the project.

“It’s really not fair to the city for them to not understand right now that it’s our intention, or your intention, not to buy half this building if it is not done properly and according to the city code, or state law, on competitive bidding,” Yost told the commission.

“Rather than waiting until this building is built, even though it’s not being done according to the law, and then tell them we don’t want to buy half, it’s better to convey that now,” Yost said.

Part of the problem is the city and county do not own the land the building sits on. That land belongs to the university — through the state.

“Their own city code requires them to own the land that they do a development on through a development agreement, and they don’t own this land,” Yost said of the city.

“(City code) also requires that the construction not begin until after the development agreement has been approved by the City Council, but the construction began in December,” Yost said.

Yost said even if the agreement made it through Wichita’s codes, it would still be bound to follow state law.

Last May, the county, city, university and non-profit organization created to manage Innovation Campus — Wichita State Innovation Alliance — and the developer MWCB, LLC signed a letter of intent to complete the project.

The creation of a non-profit organization allows projects to be awarded while avoiding the normal bidding process required by a state-owned university.

According to the letter, the city and county would each pay half the cost of the $9.5 to $10 million building to MWCB, which would own the building.

MWCB was also awarded the Airbus Americas and The Flats at WSU projects on Innovation Campus.

County Commission Chairman Dave Unruh told the Wichita Eagle he hopes the city and county can reach an agreement to salvage the deal.

“We’re not saying we don’t want to be a partner in a building, we’re not saying we don’t need a building,” Unruh said.

“We have these concerns about the process, the procedure for financing the building, that we think might prevent us from in good conscience buying at the end.”

Last May, university President John Bardo said the training center, the university’s partnership with the city and county, was an important step toward “social innovation” for the local community.

“When you think about safety—we’ve got to get that right,” Bardo said.