Lawrence city commissioners agreed Tuesday to back the eligibility of Haskell Indian Nations University and the adjacent Baker Wetlands as a joined district on the National Register of Historic Places.
If the designation comes to be, it could prove an obstacle to the Kansas Department of Transportation's efforts to complete the South Lawrence Trafficway through the wetlands. If the area receives the federal designation, alterations and major construction projects would be greatly restricted there and in a 500-foot "environs" from the district boundaries.
But there are several hoops to be jumped through before the designation is made. Haskell must first be nominated to the register, and that hasn't yet occurred.
"The nomination may or may not already be in the works," said Lawrence attorney Bruce Plenk, representing the Wetlands Preservation Organization. "There's a sure bet there will be a nomination from one source or another."
Officials said such nominations typically but not necessarily come from the property owners.
Commissioners were asked for their opinion on Haskell's eligibility for the register by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, which is preparing an environmental impact statement on proposed routes for completion of the South Lawrence Trafficway; some of the routes would go through the wetlands.
As part of its study, the corps is trying to determine if Haskell and the wetlands are eligible for inclusion on the register because of the school's long history as an academy for American Indians. The wetlands are part of the history, officials say, because they were formerly an "integral" part of Haskell's operations.
The corps already has a private report suggesting the district is eligible for the register; the State Historic Preservation Officer agreed.
Several Lawrence residents in Tuesday asked the commission to also support the eligibility.
"It's not necessarily our best history," said former mayor Marci Francisco. "Part of this history is about an Indian school and the separation of children from their parents, but it's our history nonetheless."
Commissioners agreed. They also asked the city's Historic Resources Commission to weigh in.
"I think Haskell has a rich history, and the wetlands evidently also," Commissioner Jim Henry said.