LENEXA, Kan. — A new COVID-19 vaccination site for the Johnson County Department of Health and Environment is scheduled to open at a warehouse in a Lenexa industrial area next week.
It comes after discussions about using the Overland Park Convention Center as that site failed to yield results.
As the vaccine rollout was just beginning, Overland Park City Councilman Faris Farassati sent an email to city officials on Jan. 15.
This included Mayor Carl Gerlach and City Manager Bill Ebel. Farassati suggested the city prepare to use the convention center as a mass vaccination site.
The 41 Action News I-Team spoke to Farassati about it in late January.
"We have this beautiful multi-million-dollar facility, we should have planned for it earlier. We asked for it a while ago," Farassati said in Jan.
At that same time, JCDHE Director Dr. Samni Areola, told the I-Team he received an email on Jan. 27 from the city of Overland Park offering the use of the convention center as a vaccination site.
“I will be making the call and talking to them and seeing what we can do with that,” Areola said in January.
Roughly two weeks later on Feb. 10, Overland Park City Councilman Paul Lyons held a public safety committee meeting.
At that meeting, Lyons had staffer Kyle Burns testify about ongoing discussions involving using the convention center as a vaccination site.
“There’s a lot of misinformation, unfortunately, some of it being spewed by our fellow council members,” Lyons said at the Feb. 10 meeting.
“We have had communication about the convention center. It is ultimately up to the health department,” Burns said at that meeting.
But less than a month later at the March 4 Johnson County Board of County Commissioners meeting, Commissioner Janee Hanzlick asked Brad Reinhardt, an employee in the county's facilities department, about the possibility of using the convention center as a vaccination site.
Reinhard said he specifically spoke to the convention center general manager to ask about using the center as a centralized fixed location for vaccinations.
But the general manager told Reinhardt the convention center was booked for other events.
“His comment to me was I don’t even need to look at my calendar, I know we can’t accommodate that,” Reinhardt said at the March 4 meeting.
"This is why a lot of people have difficulty trusting the words of the government," Farassati told the I-Team Wednesday.
According to Reinhardt, Johnson County staff checked out dozens of possibilities for a vaccination site, including the Overland Park Convention Center, before choosing the Lenexa warehouse.
Under terms of the deal, Johnson County will pay at least $192,000 and up to $384,000 for a year to sub-lease the warehouse from Dimensional Innovations.
The high-tech architecture/decorating firm has moved out of the warehouse because last year as the I-Team reported, the Overland Park City Council approved an up to 65% property tax break for the company to expand its Overland Park facility.
The Johnson County architect currently setting up the vaccination site at the warehouse told the I-Team scheduling vaccinations is being matched, in part, to the limited parking at the warehouse.
By comparison, the Overland Park Convention Center has significantly more parking both inside and outside than the warehouse.
"The convention center is made for ease of access by people. A warehouse is not made for ease of access by people," Farassati said.
However, at the March 4 meeting, Reinhardt said the Lenexa warehouse was the least expensive option.
He also said the expense of using the Overland Park Convention Center as a vaccination site “would be beyond what we’re able to do.”
Lyons and Ebel both said multiple discussions about using the Overland Park Convention Center as a vaccination site never reached the formal request stage.
Lyons also said to make it happen, the city council would’ve needed to vote on canceling contracts for already booked events at the convention center.