Priority: Getting rid of the old KDOC buildings

Chad Frey
Butler County Times Gazette
An honor camp at El Dorado State Lake, closed in 2009, has fallen into a state of disrepair.

The Butler County Commission is planning to make the demolition of a former Kansas Department of Corrections facility in the county a priority for the upcoming legislative session. 

The issue was part of the legislative efforts of the county one year ago as well. 

The Kansas Department of Corrections operated two "honor camps", minimum-security facilities — one at El Dorado and one in Toronto, Kansas, until 2009. According to a legislative post audit published in 2017, the camps were closed "due to budget constraints."'

Called The North Unit, the El Dorado honor camp employed 21 Full Time Equivalent state staff. When closure was announced, 19 of those positions were filled. According to a news release by the department of corrections in 2009, the facility had an annual operating budget of $1.2 million. 

"Suspending operations there is one of the first of several steps the Department will take to meet the most recent budget reduction,” said Kansas Secretary of Corrections Roger Werholtz in 2009. 

The department had just been cut during an omnibus bill passed by the state legislature. 

In the wake of the closure, DOC spent about $17,000 in fiscal year 2017 to maintain the two vacant facilities. According to a legislative post audit in 2017,  costs for the El Dorado honor camp facility were about $14,000 in fiscal year 2017 including costs for communication, utilities, maintenance materials and supplies, and repairs and servicing.

That post audit recommended razing the buildings at both sites. 

The El Dorado honor camp, which began operating in 1982, is located at El Dorado State Park and had enough capacity to accommodate 102 inmates. After the El Dorado Correctional Facility was opened in 1991, it took over the administration of both honor camps.The inmates housed at the camps worked on projects for the Kansas Department of Wildlife, Parks and Tourism — assisting with  the upkeep of the state parks — as well as projects for the cities of El Dorado, Toronto and Greeley.

There has been interest in the facilities — but nothing has come to fruition. 

KDOC is not likely to be able to sell or rent the honor camp facilities because of the federal restrictions on the land, as well as the costs to maintain, repair and remodel the facilities. Officials at KDOC and KDWPT reported they have been contacted over the last eight years by groups interested in the honor camps, though none of the ideas has ever worked out. For example, the Boy Scouts were interested in an honor camp facility but could not afford the utility costs associated with the property. Similarly,

The WWII museum in El Dorado was interested in that facility, but estimated it would cost more than $1 million to repair and remodel the building, which was not affordable," auditors wrote in the 2017 post audit report. "... The Butler County Fair has recently expressed interest in the El Dorado location, but officials report the initial proposal has been tentatively denied by the federal government."

Any organization wanting to lease and use the buildings would need to ensure the buildings are compliant with the American Disability Act. 

The department of corrections owns the honor camp buildings, but the federal government owns the land on which they are built.  The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers owns the land while The Kansas Department of Wildlife, Parks and Tourism has a long-term lease  for the land. KDWPT subleased some of the land to KDOC for use as honor camps in exchange for labor. The subleases between KDWPT and KDOC for both facilities include automatic renewal clauses.

According to the post audit, the land on which the honor camps are built can only be used for recreational purposes. KDOC’s options for the facilities are limited by the cost to maintain, repair, and remodel the facilities, as well as the federal restrictions.

According to the legislative post audit, it appears  KDOC has only two  options for the facilities:  demolish them s or continue to pay for  minimal upkeep until the federal government requires it to act.

KDOC officials estimate it would cost approximately $435,000 to demolish both facilities.

The Butler County Commission wants those buildings gone, and will make that a legislative priority during the upcoming session of the state Legislature. 

The Butler County Commission would like to see a former Honor Camp at El Dorado State Lake demolished and a new purpose for the land found.
When operational, an Honor Camp at El Dorado State Lake could house more than 100 minimum security inmates who provided labor to the park and surrounding area.