Garden City and Finney County’s 2018 sales tax projects, for weeks facing uncertain futures at the hands of a bill coming before the Kansas Legislature, will now almost definitely move forward as planned.

In November 2017, Finney County voters approved a 15-year, .3-cent sales-tax increase to fund large capital improvements projects marked as a priority by the city, county and public, including improvements to Lee Richardson Zoo, the reconstruction of Jennie Barker Road, a new, indoor shooting range for local law enforcement and the public and a third fire station to be located on the east side of Garden City.

But an oversight led to the county passing and collecting the tax last year without receiving legislative authorization, as required by state statute. The bill, House Bill 2033, meant to grant Finney County the authorization after-the-fact, passed the House in February and the Senate this past week. Now on its way to the governor, local officials are confident the bill will be signed into law and the sales tax increase secured.

So far, the City of Garden City and Finney County have received more than $1.9 million from the tax increase and spent more than $358,000 on planning and design stages for the projects, according to a breakdown provided by the city.

Here's what’s coming up with the sales tax projects over the next few years.

 

Lee Richardson Zoo

Lee Richardson Zoo will be the first sales tax project to break ground, holding construction on new primate and flamingo exhibits and an expansion of the animal health facility in June through late April or early May 2020.

The additions will open zoo staff and patrons to new opportunities, said Kristi Newland, zoo director. A larger, more naturalistic, indoor/outdoor primate exhibit, which largely will take over the current small primate and flamingo exhibit footprints, will allow the zoo to double its amount of lemurs and spider monkeys and allow guests to see the animals year-round, she said. A sterile surgery room and added quarantine space at the expanded health facility would allow staff more options for housing hurt or sick animals and completing more involved surgeries, plus help the zoo meet regulatory expectations, she said.

The small flamingo and primate buildings are decades-old and dilapidated and have long been marked as a priority. In the near future, Newland said, the buildings would not be habitable for any animals.

The new flamingo exhibit will take advantage of unused space by the zoo’s nature area and duck pond, and include a larger, indoor holding facility, nesting beach by the pond and public viewing deck where guests can feed the birds.

Those updates play into the zoo’s mission, as well, Newland said. As seen from past updates, like Cat Canyon, guests connect more and stay longer at fresher, well done habitats, she said.

“You can’t inspire folks to care about the animals when they’re looking at a dilapidated building. That kind of takes over the focus when folks are there. They’re looking at the condition rather than connecting to the animal,” Newland said.

 

Jennie Barker Road

Should the Kansas Department of Transportation bypass improvements project finish on time, Jennie Barker Road will be the second sales tax project to break ground in March 2020 and is projected to finish by the end of next year, said Roberto Becerril, Neighborhood and Development services project manager.

The $7 million project will reconstruct and expand the road to four lanes from Schulman Avenue to the Jennie Barker/Mary Street/K-156 intersection, completing the widening of the road from Fulton Street to Kansas Avenue and updating the county road to better serve as an urban corridor for commercial developments on the east side of town.

The project is one about 20 years in the making and, once completed, will better handle any future growth to the area, Allen said. A wider road also will lend improve traffic flow for the currently clogged area, alleviating an economic development concern for the booming section of town, said Lona DuVall, president and CEO of the Finney County Economic Development Corp.

 

Gun range

The indoor gun range is not only a much needed replacement for the current nearly 70-year-old facility that is beyond repair, but the beginning of a much larger, fledgling project for all local first responders, said Garden City police Capt. Randy Ralston.

Construction on the $2.5 million shooting range could begin anywhere from the end of this year to the beginning of 2021 and take about 12 months to complete, said Neighborhood and Development Services Director Kaleb Kentner. Updated from the current outdoor range, the indoor facility would include a 25-yard shooting range, two 25-seat classrooms for training seminars, an armory, offices, a communal space behind the range and a defensive training room, Ralston said.

Unlike the current outdoor range, the updated facility will allow for advanced training options, including moving targets, flashing red and blue lights to simulate patrol cars, shooting from multiple directions and shooting rifles, Ralston said. Shooting bays separated by bullet-proof glass instead of solid steel will allow instructors to better monitor all officers and an automated system will clean out bullets, he said.

The facility is ideally the first phase of a roughly $9 million expansive law enforcement training facility, including a driving range for all emergency vehicles, fire tower, larger classroom and longer outdoor shooting range, among other facilities, Ralston said. The bigger project is not yet included on the city's Capital Improvements Planning process and likely many years away, Kentner said.

The indoor gun range will not only open up possibilities for local law enforcement, but also for the many agencies — some from Colorado and Oklahoma — that also utilize GCPD facilities for training courses, Ralston said. He said it would be open to anyone who wants to use it.

“Something like this just isn’t around here — we’re touching new ground here. There’s no facility like this in this part of the country. Until you get to Denver or until you get to Wichita, you’re not going to find anything like this,” Ralston said.

Officers also plan on opening the range up to the public on certain days, with trained officers on site for guidance and protection, Ralston said. From shooting classes to just “another thing to do,” he said the site could act as a point of public outreach for gun safety and education.

 

Third fire station

The Garden City Fire Department’s proposed third station, a year-long, $7.3 million project expected to break ground in 2024, will be the last of the sales tax projects.

Fire Chief Allen Shelton said he began working with the city on the proposed third station in 1999 in order to respond to the growing community. Four acres of land at the intersection of Jennie Barker Road and Schulman Avenue have been set aside for the facility since the early 2000s, he said.

“As the city has continued to grow, and especially over the last few years with all the commercial construction on the east side and now we have a lot of the residential properties being built — we need to have a fire station on that side of the city to improve our response time and to serve the people that not only live and work in that area, but the people coming to our community. So, it’s a very high priority project,” Shelton said.

The 15,000-square-foot building will dispatch both GCFD trucks and Finney County EMS ambulances and house up to 10 officers at any one time, Shelton said. The facility also will act as a GCPD office and substation for officers on that side of town, he said. The GCFD will need to hire 15 new firefighters to staff the station, he said.

The added station also will improve ISO property rates for residents and businesses throughout Garden City, especially those within five miles of the new station, Shelton said.

The better insurance rates and fire protection are definitely pulls for companies looking to come to town, especially larger industrial facilities, DuVall said.

“They’re going to make a significant investment in capital, and they want to make sure that that investment is going to be protected to the best of their ability. And absolutely fire service and protection plays into that,” DuVall said.

A third dispatch location will decrease response times to the east side of the city from roughly seven to eight minutes to four minutes, Shelton said, and response in the county will increase, as well. Instead of the north and south stations splitting the entire county in half along Kansas Avenue, the third station will now respond to fires on the east side of the county, he said. EMS response times also will improve, he said.

“Every minute that we can save to get on the scene, it improves the chances of saving somebody … We’re here to serve the community, and we want to serve them to the best of our ability,” Shelton said.

 

Contact Amber Friend at afriend@gctelegram.com.