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Archive for Thursday, July 8, 2004

Watkins options

July 8, 2004

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Viable options exist to expand the Watkins Community Museum at its current site.

In recent weeks, there has been discussion about the future of the Watkins Community Museum of History, funding to keep the museum growing in excellence and how to improve the facility to accommodate a growing number of visitors and acquisitions.

If the museum is to grow, officials will have to consider the cost of the expansion as well as where it should take place.

Unfortunately, due to the decision some years ago to place the Japanese friendship garden just north of the museum, an expansion in that direction is out of the picture. It seems the logical way to expand would be to the west, across the alley. Capitol Federal Savings currently occupies the northeast corner of 11th and Vermont streets, and if the Topeka-based savings and loan were to agree to sell the property, it would be an ideal site for museum expansion.

It also might be possible to acquire the building directly north of Capitol Federal. The structure, which has been used as a car dealership, office supply store and food market, could be used for parking and/or museum expansion.

If the museum expanded to the west, the Lawrence Community Building, directly across 11th Street would be an ideal location for museum-related gatherings, programs and meals.

Some have suggested the museum could be moved to a different location, abandoning the unique and historic former Watkins Bank. It would be a shame, however, to lose such a distinctive building.

Although a new building would provide a facility expressly designed to serve the museum's needs, the cost of acquiring a suitable site elsewhere, as well as the cost of construction, would be considerable. If the Cap Fed building could be acquired, a new two- or three-story structure could be designed to complement the Watkins building and provide superior display and storage space.

Lawrence and the surrounding area are growing, there is new leadership at the museum and there seems to be a commitment to have a finer museum. The history of this area seems to be gaining importance in the minds of many, and there are efforts under way to create the "Bleeding Kansas National Heritage Area" in northeast Kansas. This, too, will focus more attention on the historical significance of events that occurred in this area in the 1800s.

It's good that more local residents are showing an interest in and appreciation for the history of Lawrence and the surrounding area. There would seem to be many opportunities for cooperative efforts between Kansas University and Watkins museum that would contribute to Lawrence becoming a significant center for historical collections and research materials.

Now is the time to think about the future and to be bold in planning an expanded and finer history museum for Douglas County.

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