When the former Nebraska, Kansas West and Kansas East conferences unified in 2014 to become the Great Plains Conference, it retained its three offices in, respectively, Lincoln, Wichita and Topeka.
But that era is scheduled to end sometime in 2018, as the Great Plains Conference voted by an overwhelming margin to consolidate the three offices into one, located in Topeka. The city was chosen based on a recommendation by a five-member task force set up to recommend a location and was approved by the conference Board of Trustees.
The new conference office, officials said, would not be in the current Topeka office location on Southwest 15th Street.
Through a series of motions from the Rev. Steve Flader, chair of the Board of Trustees, clergy and lay members to annual conference voted to consolidate the current Lincoln, Topeka and Wichita offices; approved the Topeka location; and authorized the trustees to purchase, lease, sell or transfer property accordingly. The second and third votes, by voice, were overwhelmingly approved.
The decision to consolidate offices resulted from a staffing study conducted earlier this year by consultant the Rev. John Wimberly. A singular office, the consultant concluded, would increase staff collaboration and unity, as well as improve customer service for clergy and laity. Read an executive summary of the report from Rev. Wimberly.
"We want to create a culture that is the Great Plains Conference," said the Rev. Craig Hauschild, Personnel Committee chair. "Currently we are tethered to three respective areas. It is time for us to not have those tethers."
Topeka was chosen from eight possible sites in Kansas and Nebraska for its relatively low cost of operation, cost of living, office space availability and location to an airport, as well as its smaller metro area and small-town feel, Flader said.
Flader gave no timetable for the consolidation and move, except that it possibly would happen sometime in 2018. Motions from the floor to delay the decision until 2019 were soundly defeated.
The Rev. Gary Beach, conference treasurer and director of administrative services, said there are enough funds in trustees reserves for construction of a new building or the purchase of an existing building, and there would be no need for a mortgage.
"It's not about savings," he said of the move to a single office.
Initial candidate locations included Topeka, Kansas City, Lawrence, Lincoln, Manhattan, Omaha, Salina and Wichita. Based on factors including the labor market, operating costs, access to air travel and overall quality of life, McCallum Sweeney Consultants – a company that provides businesses, municipalities and organizations assistance with site selection – recommended narrowing the initial list to Topeka and Kansas City. The firm provided information comparing the various markets on those factors before the task force made its decision, which was affirmed unanimously by the Trustees.
“Topeka's strengths as we saw them were in affordability of housing, cost of living and of available office space, cost per square footage,” Flader said. “The committee saw the benefits of being in a smaller metro area, commuting time to an office and a smaller-town feel. Topeka is also closer to the center of church attendance for the conference.”
Read the report from the consulting firm.
Bishop Ruben Saenz Jr. said the decision to maintain three offices when the former Kansas West, Kansas East and Nebraska conferences unified in 2014 was correct at the time.
“Conference staff at all three office sites provided a seamless transition and continuation of mission critical ministries, administration and local church support for the newly formed Great Plains Conference,” Bishop Saenz said. “Their dedicated work and contributions to successfully unify and sustain the conference’s support of the local churches are to be highly commended and deeply appreciated.”
The Board of Trustees then will decide whether to lease or purchase an existing building, renovate an existing building or build a new office structure. If renovations or complete construction is necessary, the move may not happen for more than 12 months. And even then, conference staff would migrate to the new location in shifts to ensure the work of the conference continues unabated.
Conference staff who do not move to the new location will be offered severance packages to be determined by the Personnel Committee. Hauschild told conference attendees that he wanted to be clear that the conference was not a corporation but instead a representative of the church. As such, the intent is to treat departing employees fairly and to provide as much support as possible to assist them in finding new employment after the consolidation of the three offices.
Contact Todd Seifert, conference communications director, at email@example.com. Contact David Burke, communications coordinator, at firstname.lastname@example.org.