County takes step toward meeting EMS, fire needs
By DAWNE LEIKER
Ellis County commissioners, struggling with the topic of space needs for more than a decade, solicited input from department heads Monday regarding plans for an EMS/Rural Fire building.
The building is proposed to be located on the corner of 22nd and General Hays Road, east of the land Ellis County sold to Commerce Bank in June.
Commissioners approved architectural fees to Spangenberg Phillips Tice of $32,000 for the building project at their regular meeting Monday evening for an approximately 32,000-square-foot facility projected to cost $2.2 million.
As commissioners, frequently displaying frustration, sifted through concepts of proposed EMS/Rural Fire Department buildings dating back several years, County Administrator Greg Sund questioned Ellis County EMS Director Kerry McCue about the need for a large meeting room, which would accommodate up to 100 people, in the facility.
"We're going to get one opportunity to build this building," McCue told him. "And we need to build this building right.
"Come to our department and watch training now. ... We can't do it in the facility we have."
Space needs committee member Tom Wasinger, who was joined by committee member Errol Wuertz, pointed out a large meeting area will be available to county departments as a result of the acquisition of the Commerce Bank building. The building's 5,500-square-foot basement could serve as a training room, Wasinger said.
The location wouldn't be optimal, McCue said, because training equipment would have to be moved to the location each time a training was scheduled. An on-site meeting room could accommodate storage for equipment, and potentially be divisible into three or four areas.
"We talked about this being a multi-functional facility," McCue said.
Commissioners agreed, after considerable discussion, to have architect Spangenberg prepare plans for two options for the EMS/Rural Fire Department building, one with a meeting room and one without.
The proposed building has been under debate since 2001, when the county purchased two tracts of land at 22nd and Vine from the Kansas Department of Transportation for $514,595.
One tract was sold to Commerce Bank in June when Ellis County purchased the bank building at 718 Main in exchange for $1 million cash and the county's property at 22nd and Vine.
Wasinger said there is good news regarding the decade-long process.
Four building proposals were under consideration at the beginning of the process, including an EMS building, county administrative offices, and courthouse and law enforcement center renovations. The total projected cost for all four projects 10 years ago was estimated at $15 million.
Estimates for the same projects currently, Wasinger said, are about half of the costs estimated 10 years ago. Some of that cost-savings can be attributed to the purchase of the Commerce Bank building.
"So that's the plus side," he said. "We've cut that down by taking our time and analyzing this thing."
Commissioner Glenn Diehl said that cost-savings and diligence by the commission is what county residents want.
"They're demanding we go through this and ask the hard questions," he said. "That's the only way we can do it."
Commissioners hope funding for the EMS/Rural Fire Department facility, along with other county projects, will come from a countywide sales tax. County commissioners last year met with Hays city commissioners and discussed the possibility of implementing the tax when the city of Hays' sales tax for Bickle/Schmidt Sports Complex expires in March.
However, the track record for voter-approval of county projects hasn't been encouraging.
Voters in 2008 rejected a measure to fund a move of Ellis County administrative offices to the Hadley Center. The $5 million bond issue, which would have added 1.06 mills to the county's mill levy for 20 years, failed with 65 percent of voters saying "no" to the project.
Other building projects currently under consideration by county commissioners include an interior remodel of the former Commerce Bank Building for Ellis County offices and jail expansion and remodel of the Ellis County Courthouse for a dedicated justice facility.