Just like Greensburg is the home of the world’s largest hand-dug well and Cawker City is the home of the world’s largest ball of twine, Topeka is the home of Kansas state government.
Or is it?
No one is likely to move the ball of twine, and Greensburg’s well certainly isn’t going anywhere, but, for better or worse, the presence of state offices in Topeka no longer is guaranteed.
Last week, the Department of Agriculture announced it would move most of its operation to Manhattan. Ag officials touted the advantages of having the department’s hub closer to the agriculture education and research programs at Kansas State University – as well as the new National Bio- and Agro-Defense Facility being developed on that campus.
That’s a strong and logical motivation for the ag department— made even sweeter by Kansas State’s offer to build a new 50,000-square-foot building to house its offices. The department negotiated a 20-year lease on the building that calls for the state to pay $686,000 per year for the space, which will accommodate 200 employees. The Manhattan space will replace about 43,000 square feet of space the department now leases in the Mills Building in Topeka for $633,000 a year.
The Mills Building lease expires in the fall, which prompted the department last summer to begin exploring various space options. After confirming with the Kansas Attorney General’s Office that they had the authority to put their offices anywhere in the state, ag department officials put out a request for information and received about 40 proposals, including eight for sites outside of Topeka. Negotiations began and the Manhattan location was selected.
The department plans to move most of its 174 employees by June 2014. About 10 people in the main administration office will remain in Topeka, probably moving to space the department leases at Forbes Field, which will continue to house the department’s water offices and labs.
As noted above, the move to Manhattan makes sense for the ag department. In general, moving state offices out of Topeka spreads more state job opportunities across the state and may insulate those offices and personnel somewhat from the political vagaries of the Capitol. Modern technology has eliminated many of the communications issues that may have raised concerns about remote offices in earlier years.
Topeka still is the center of state government in Kansas, but recent moves indicate its hold on state jobs and functions may not be as ironclad as some residents thought. Topekans are understandably concerned about the loss of jobs that would result from moving more offices to other cities, and there undoubtedly are other drawbacks — especially if many other departments decide to seek space elsewhere. Such decisions shouldn’t be based on where a department can find the least expensive space but, rather, on whether a move will directly benefit not only the department but also the state and its taxpayers.