The former Ford County Health Department building had a couple potential suitors at the Ford County Commissioners meeting Monday.


The building, at 106 E. Spruce, has been vacant since the Health Department moved to the former Ford County jail building in 2016.


Commissioners Ken Snook and Chris Boys heard first from Pat Klecker, director of Santa Fe Trails Community Corrections about the possibility of utilizing the building for SFTCC. Commissioner Shawn Tasset was not present. Snook and Boys also heard a pitch from Ford County Historical Society President Kent Stehlik for a new historical museum.


The probation agency is currently housed at 208 W. Spruce in a rented building for which Ford County pays $2,500 a month. Klecker said much of the space in the building is not suitable for efficient use and unavailable for renovation.


Klecker expressed the need for more space for his agency.


"There's just so much of that space that we can not use," Klecker said. "It's not our building to go in there and do construction on, either."


Klecker said SFTCC would likely utilize the 4,700 square-foot basement as classroom space for classes. Old exam rooms on the upper floor would be divided into 17 office spaces. SFTCC currently works with seven offices and space for four cubicles.


The basement would need the most renovation should SFTCC move into the building. Klecker said with the space being used for large classrooms, two large restrooms would need to be constructed there.
 

Deputy Director Sonja Channell said SFTCC has put in its due diligence in making use of its current facilities.


"We've literally used every inch of space and re-purposed everything we possibly can," Channell said.


According to Klecker, his agency sees about 350 separate probationers every year. He said SFTCC has less than the state average of 25 percent of probationers eventually move on to prison. He said a move would be an opportunity for Ford County to get behind SFTCC in a significant way.


"Our program does an outstanding job," he said. "By providing us a workspace we could be a lot more effective."


Probationers and people performing community service work could provide a significant portion of the labor, according to Klecker.


"We have community service workers, many times skilled labor, that comes in," Klecker said. "As far as demolition, clean up, painting ... we would be able to provide a lot of that work just with community service to reduce the cost of it."


At this time, adult and juvenile services are in separate locations. Klecker said operations would be more fluid and efficient if done under one roof. He said management and supervision is simply not as effective being forced to travel between the two.


"We've done some restructuring to help out with that," Klecker said, "but the reality is that if we were in the same building we could do a better job administratively."


Boys asked Klecker whether there would be grants from state or federal entities that might help pay for a move and remodel. Klecker replied that available grants cover very little outside of salaries and benefits.


SFTCC serves several hundred youth and adults, not only in the probation aspect but also early intervention and truancy programs. While commissioners gave no approval or denials, they asked Klecker to compile some data outlining costs and timelines for a potential move.


Court Services was approached about the possibility of partnering with SFTCC in the building, but they are happy with their current location, according to Klecker.


One issue facing SFTCC in using the old health department building is the historical nature of the structure. The building is on the national registry of historic places and as such would likely have specific requirements and restrictions on any renovation.


The historical aspect is specifically the reason the Ford County Historical Society is eyeing the location for a new Ford County Legacy Center museum. Stehlik said the building's location within the Dodge City Historic District makes it an ideal location for the museum.


TripAdvisor lists six of the top 10 attractions for Dodge City are within the Historical District and are within walking distance of one another. Stehlik said tourism is the number three industry in Kansas, and Ford County ranks 8th out of 105 counties for tourism.


Stehlik said the building is the only available historic building near the Home of Stone, making it a unique location that would allow for shared parking and staffing, and allow visitors to walk between the two sites as well as the historic post office. Some 4,000 visitors per year visit the Home of Stone.


Ford County is one of the few counties in Kansas without its own county museum. Stehlik said the fact that Ford County is one of the most famous historic counties in the nation makes the need for a museum huge.


"We are a tourism town and a historical town," Stehlik said. "There are six other attractions within the Downtown District. This would be number seven. People would be able to walk and not have to get in and out of their car to travel."


Renovations for a museum would qualify for Heritage Trust Grants and Historic tax credits, according to state historical personnel who have recently inspected the facility.


The building was constructed in the 1930s as a federal Works Project Administration project.



When the Society is given historical artifacts they have to be stored away or not pursued at all, according to Stehlik. Currently, most items are stored at the Kansas Heritage Center inside the USD 443 administration building across from the Dodge City Library, or at the storage in the basement of Village Square Mall. Stehlik said when the Heritage Center moves in 2019, the Society will have to find a new home for many of those items.


"We're going to have to have a place for these things," Stehlik said. "We need space to display things that people aren't seeing right now."


Stehlik described more than just static displays. He said the Society has a vision of a "Dust Bowl" exhibit that would give visitors the experience of living through the 1930s environmental tragedy.


"People should know what it was like to live out here during the 'Dirty Thirties'," Stehlik said.


The Society has obtained an estimate on the cost to repair the roof and has retained the historical architect who worked on the Home of Stone renovations to advise restoration and repair. Stehlik said they have received numerous letters of support from the community, including financial pledges to help with the costs.


He said that there is also potential for up to $250,000 from a federal grant available for establishing a new museum.


Stehlik said that since the county already owns the building there would be no sales tax charged on work completed or materials purchased. The historic preservation would also be able to take advantage of existing roads and sewage without adding to taxpayer burden for new infrastructure.


"If we want a museum in Ford County, this is a great location,” Stehlik said. “Considering all the history this county has ... it should be a natural thing. There's all kind of potential. We want to take advantage of that. We are excited and want to continue to work with the county the way we have since 1965."


The National Trust for Historic Preservation states that visitors to historic sites spend on average $62 per day more than other tourists. According to Stehlik, a new museum would draw more visitors, increasing sales tax dollars.


"We want more tourism traffic," he said. "That's business. That's sales tax and retail sales. Downtown wants that and we all want that."


To contact the writer email sedger@dodgeglobe.com