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Washington Elementary may have new tenant PDF Print E-mail
Wednesday, 10 January 2018 12:48

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WKCAC looking to serve abused children in Liberal



By ROBERT PIERCE
• Leader & Times



While many of the former schools in USD No. 480 will be torn down, some are being used for other purposes now in the district, including the former West Middle School now being used as a branch for Liberal High School.

One of Liberal’s elementary schools may soon have a non-district tenant using its facility. USD 480 Board of Education members heard from Kelly Roberts of the Western Kansas Children’s Advocacy Center (WKCAC) about the potential use of Washington Elementary as an office in Liberal for the agency at Monday’s board meeting.

Roberts gave an overview of WKCAC as the board entered a lengthy discussion pertaining to the item.

“We work with kids that may have been abused,” she said. “Eighty percent of our kids had sexual abuse. Our kids are your kids. We provide service that’s not out there otherwise. We provide direct advocacy, forensic interviews in a child-friendly environment.”

Roberts said her goal is to make the potential Liberal office a trauma-focused child center for the community and surrounding area.

WKCAC is a non-profit started in 2004 in Satanta with strictly volunteers.

“I was an agent for the Kansas Bureau of Investigation,” Roberts said. “I went to a training that changed my life on how to interview kids properly, and we started working with kids.”

Since 2004, the agency has grown from volunteers and volunteer space to 20 employed people. Roberts said she has one such person ready to go in Liberal as soon as she has a place to put them.

“We cover 32 counties now, and we have five sites,” she said. “Just this last year, we opened a site in Garden City, and in eight months, our advocate saw 70 kids. I expect the numbers to be very close to here because the advocacy is what is missing.”

Roberts said WKCAC works with children from a case’s beginning to its end.

“We work directly with law enforcement, child protection services, county attorney, and from the time the first abuse is reported to the end, however long that might be,” she said. “If it takes three years to go to court, which is not unusual, we’re still there in the meantime helping the child and the family through that process.”

Roberts said her agency has been able to deliver services to rural Kansas in a unique way.

“Besides our stand-alone centers, we have five mobile units,” she said. “We’re nationally known for our mobile units, where we take our services directly to the child and family.”

Roberts said officials with WKCAC have seen growth and the need for its services, and Liberal is similar to the sizes of the other communities home to the agency.

“Like Garden City, Hays was one right before that,” she said. “The larger towns are a little bit slower in getting on board because they have bits and pieces, and they need help bringing that all together.”

In addition to other entities, Roberts said her agency works with schools and mental health facilities, the latter of which she said is how WKCAC will make a difference.

In addition to employee growth, the agency’s budget has grown to just more than a million dollars in recent years.

“About 60 percent of that is through grant funding,” Roberts said. “We get it from the state. They have state funding, federal.”

WKCAC likewise does fundraisers and is part of Seward County United Way. Roberts said both United Way and the local Cooper Clark Foundation are waiting to see if the agency gets a building in Liberal to help them with funding.

Roberts said the agency does not charge for its services.

“We’re there,” she said. “We’re all about the kids.”

Board member Nick Hatcher questioned Roberts about the size of Washington Elementary, saying the school was a little bigger than what WKCAC needed for its services. Roberts said the space would give the agency room to expand play therapy and trauma-focused therapy for sexually abused children.

Roberts said she has a commitment from a local KBI agent, and she has spoken with the local Sexual Assault Nurse Examiners program about having an office in the building.

“My goal is to expand that on other agencies that work with kids and being able to offer a complex,” she said.

New USD 480 board member Matt Durler said the board is supportive of what WKCAC is doing, but like many, he was concerned about the sustainability of the agency in Washington Elementary.

“Would your organization be able to obtain a performance bond to maintain whatever the cost of demolition of that building is?” he said. “I think in a real sense, if that building is out of repair even where it sits, the cost of demolition very likely is more than the building.”

Roberts said she would have to get more information and costs about that concern.

USD 480 Board Vice President Travis Combs said the agency brings value to the community with the number of cases reported in all of Liberal’s schools. 

“They oftentimes go unreported or get reported and nothing happens,” he said. “I think you bring a huge benefit to the community. I think as a school district, it would be a positive light.”

Alan Brown, who is also new to the USD 480 board, expressed concerns about insurance issues.

“If we do lease, I would say we need to make sure they have a liability insurance that’s high enough, plus I think if we leased, we would have to have something where we would have a ‘yes’ or ‘no’ on any subleasing,” he said. 

Hatcher pointed to the former Liberal High School building on Grant Avenue, saying he did not want to see Washington Elementary in a similar situation.

“I feel obligated that we follow the wishes of our community that we do look out for their interests,” he said. “We don’t want this problem across the street ending up there as well.”

Combs said the board would work to ensure that did not happen with the elementary school.

Durler said whether the district owns the building or not, public perception is still a problem.

“No matter what we do with the title on these buildings, the district will never separate themselves from the buildings if they go into ruin,” he said.

USD 480 Superintendent Renae Hickert urged the board to take action in either direction.

“I think if you don’t want this, we move forward and begin to tear it down,” she said. “There’s not going to be another entity that wants it. We’ve had five entities look at it. Four of them have dropped out. Let’s settle this. Either we’re interested in pursuing a relationship, or we commit to tearing it down.”

Combs said either the building is leased to WKCAC to provide a necessity to the community, or it is torn down.

“I think our obligation is for the assets of the district, not the welfare of the community,” Hatcher said.

Combs disagreed, saying Hatcher’s statement was absolutely not true.

“We’re a school district, so of course, we’re about the welfare of the community,” he said.

Following the discussion, the school board agreed to explore the development of a five-year lease with WKCAC at Washington Elementary, pending review of legal counsel and approval of both boards.

 

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The High Plains Daily Leader and Southwest Daily Times are published Sunday through Friday and reaches homes throughout the Liberal, Kansas retail trade zone. The Leader & Times is the official newspaper of Seward County, USD No. 480, USD No. 483 and the cities of Liberal and Kismet.  The Leader & Times is a member of the Liberal Chamber of Commerce, the Kansas Press Association and the Associated Press.

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