A circuitous, five-year journey ended this morning and left the historic Union Pacific depot in North Lawrence right where it's always been.
Officials from the Union Pacific Railroad today donated the century-old depot to the city of Lawrence. In turn, the city will lease the structure to the Save the Depot Task Force as the Depot Management Board. The non-profit organization will raise funds to renovate the facility and operate it as a community center.
Today's actions mean the depot will remain on the same site it's occupied since 1889. The announcement marks a reversal of a previous position held by the railroad, which had insisted that the depot be moved away from the nearby tracks.
"In November of 1987, we offered to help move the building because of our concern about its placement near our main line. This past year, we revisited that decision and determined that the costs of relocating the building presented a real obstacle to saving this structure," Ken Packard, a Union Pacific official, said. "It is our determination that leaving the building in place makes sense for all parties."
IN ACCEPTING a ceremonial key to the depot, Lawrence Mayor Bob Schumm said, "We sure appreciate everything you've done for us. We know you're going to be proud of this restored facility."
Schumm, who also gave the Union Pacific representatives a key to the city, said, "This is a great lesson in perseverance."
In December 1984, Union Pacific announced its plans to raze the depot. The railroad no longer used the depot and said it was unsuitable for other purposes because tracks running nearby would cause safety problems for people coming and going from the building.
Union Pacific only agreed to donate the depot after local officials agreed to erect a wrought-iron fence to separate the depot and grounds from the nearby railroad tracks, he said.
"That's the particular thing we're interested in," Parkard said, "to keep people away from the tracks."
Union Pacific has agreed to remove overhead lines so the building's original steeple can be rebuilt, and will pay the city to station a crossing guard at Fourth and Locust to help people cross the tracks and the street. A UP employee currently helps children across the tracks.
"From there, we're more or less out of the picture with the depot," Packard said.
SHORTLY AFTER the 1984 announcement, a local movement to save the depot began, and UP delayed demolition while efforts began to move the depot. An early plan called for moving the 650-ton depot, in halves, across the Kansas River and reconstructing it on a site below the Bowersock Dam. After that plan was discarded, preparations began for relocating the depot on UP-owned land about 90 feet from the original site.
Since its formation, the Save the Depot Task Force has been involved in various efforts to raise funds for the relocation and renovation of the depot. Now the task force will turn its efforts to raising money solely for renovation.
Craig Patterson, an architect and member of the Save the Depot Task Force, said the task force has raised $60,000 of the estimated $375,000 needed to complete restoration. In-kind services for additional work already has been pledged, and a drive for raising the remaining funds has begun.
"Many people and organizations have been contacted, including some potentially major donors. With this donation of the depot, our fund raising can take off in earnest," Patterson said.
Bill Guthrie, a task force member, said there's no firm timetable for completing the renovation.
"PROBABLY, WE'RE looking in the area of two to three years, depending on how the fund raising goes," he said. "That would be the soonest."
The depot remains structurally sound. The old passenger waiting area is intended to be a community room, Guthrie said. The remaining 1,200 square feet will be used for offices.
"The United Way has expressed interest in being a tenant," he said.
Union Pacific also has agreed to an open-ended lease of the 2.7-acre tract on which the depot is built. Plans call for the grassy area south of the depot to be restored to its original parklike setting.
"This is a big step forward for this project," Patterson said. "but there is much left to do. Community support has been wonderful, and we expect it will grow as a result of today's gift from Union Pacific."
Patterson said the historic value of the depot is important to Lawrence. The building was designed by Henry Van Brunt, one of the top five architects in the nation during the late 19th Century, according to Patterson. In addition to the depot, Van Brunt also designed KU's Spooner Hall, Harvard University's Memorial Hall and the Coates House Hotel in Kansas City.
The Lawrence City Commission is expected to formally accept transfer of the deed from Union Pacific on Tuesday, Acting City Manager Mike Wildgen said.