Topeka The Kansas Department of Agriculture is changing pastures, and that means a big change for some 160 state employees.
Earlier this month, Agriculture Secretary Dale Rodman announced that the department was moving from Topeka to Manhattan, a distance of about 56 miles.
Rodman described Manhattan as a perfect fit. Having KDA adjacent to Kansas State University, the future National Bio and Agro-Defense Facility and other ag-related entities will "enhance the overall effectiveness of the department," he said.
Others, however, have expressed concerns.
"We're just puzzled at all of this," said Nick Levendofsky, special projects coordinator for the Kansas Farmers Union.
"The Department of Agriculture is a regulatory agency that is part of the executive branch, and in our mind should remain in Topeka," Levendofsky said.
In fact, there is a state law that says simply, "The Kansas department of agriculture shall be in the city of Topeka."
Mary Geiger, a spokeswoman for KDA, said the department would satisfy that requirement by keeping its administrative staff in Topeka. That will include approximately 10 employees, Geiger said. A lab and field office located at Forbes Field in Topeka will also remain, she said.
Rodman, she said, will maintain offices in Topeka and Manhattan. "The reality is he is out and about across the state," she said.
But for the remainder of employees, the choice is to commute, move, look for another job or retire.
Some have complained privately, but none publicly.
Mike Marvin, executive director of the Kansas Organization of State Employees, said he has heard from some employees upset about the move.
But, Marvin said, management can determine where it wants to do business.
"It's a management right in any contract that I've been associated with that they determine the means and where and how they perform their mission," he said.
Geiger said managers have discussed the relocation with employees. But, she said, she has no estimate at this point how many staff members will stay with KDA and make the move to Manhattan.
Under the proposal, KDA will leave its current digs in the Mills Building in downtown Topeka no later than June 30, 2014, and move into a soon-to-be-constructred, three-story, 50,000 square-foot office building in the Kansas State University Foundation Research Park.
According to KDA, it will lease the building for $686,000 per year, which is $53,000 more than it is paying now, but the new space will be approximately 6,500 square feet larger, so the $13.72 per square foot cost in the new building is less than the $14.57 per square foot cost in the Mills Building. In addition, KDA has the ability to lease extra space in the new building to other state agencies.
The new building will be constructed by the KSU Foundation at a cost of $8.6 million, according to Greg Lohrentz, senior vice president for finance and administration at the foundation.
Lohrentz said no private funds will be used. He said the Kansas Development Finance Authority is facilitating a bond sale that will be paid off in 20 years to coincide with the lease agreement.
Rodman said the decision by KDA to move follows two years of analysis in which 40 proposals were considered. Visits were made to eight proposals outside Topeka, he said.
Several Topeka legislators said the move would produce a hardship on KDA employees, but Manhattan officials welcomed the transition.
"In making this decision, Secretary Rodman and other state leaders recognize that Manhattan is the center for agricultural services and research in Kansas," Manhattan Mayor Loren Pepperd said.