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Archive for Saturday, April 22, 2006

Baldwin to renovate downtown

April 22, 2006

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— This time next year downtown Baldwin will look a lot different - and a lot better, city officials say.

Work was expected to start this spring on a downtown beautification project, funded by grants totaling $2.25 million from the Kansas Department of Transportation.

Victorian street lighting, flower planters and improved sidewalks will spruce up the downtown area and make it more navigable for the disabled.

"I think it will be a great enhancement," City Administrator Jeff Dingman said. "Not only does it solve some of the problems with old sidewalks, it also will improve the aesthetics of our downtown by undergrounding the wiring to our street lights and upgrading the quality of the lighting. It will help the landscape of downtown."

Mayor Gary Walbridge noted another major part of the downtown project: adding a new parking lot. The city purchased property west of city hall where a lumberyard used to be and will turn it into a parking lot.

"That is something we desperately need in Baldwin," Walbridge said.

The city's share of the downtown project is $255,000.

The planters with their flower arrangements will have underground piping to alleviate the need for someone to physically water the plants.

"Those will make it convenient and keep the downtown looking nice," Walbridge said.

The city hasn't upgraded its downtown sidewalks since the mid-1970s, Walbridge said.

Also included in the downtown project will be renovation of the "women's bridge" on High Street between 10th and 11th streets. The bridge is a 19th century stone arch bridge built by an all-female city governing body and mayor in 1889. The women wanted the bridge over Tauy Creek to keep their petticoats from getting muddy when crossing the stream, according to historical accounts.

The bridge project's estimated cost will be about $984,000 with the city providing 20 percent, or about $197,000.

The KDOT issues the grants for transportation enhancement projects for the federal government. They are for projects that strengthen the cultural, aesthetic or environmental value of transportation programs.

The downtown enhancements should be done by the time the annual Maple Leaf Festival takes place in October, Dingman said.

"I suppose there is some concern, but we're going to build into our (construction) contract with whoever the contractor is that says 'you are going to be done by the end of September,'" Dingman said.

Funding assistance

The downtown project isn't the only one taking advantage of grants. Earlier this year the Lumberyard Arts Center Project received a $25,000 grant from the Ethel and Raymond F. Rice Foundation. The project involves the refurbishment of a former downtown lumberyard into an arts center. The project began in 2003, and efforts have been under way since to raise up to $1.2 million. At the end of February more than $180,000 had been raised, said Sandy Cardens, president of LACP's board of directors.

"We are in the throes of fund-raising, and that's our primary goal at the moment," Cardens said. "The fund-raising committee has really done a lot of work. They're working on an overall capital campaign that will tell us where we are going and what we need to do."

Donations also were received from the city of Baldwin for $1,000 and $1,370 from the Maple Leaf Committee.

Arts center plans

Arts center supporters also have received architectural plans and preliminary construction bids. A committee is working on details about the interior finishes and lighting. Some physical work can probably start on the project this spring, Cardens said.

LACP has a contract with Baldwin State Bank giving it the option to purchase the building anytime between now and December 2010 when half the funds needed for the renovation have been raised.

Arts classes are being conducted in the lumberyard center's building now. A painting class has taken place on Saturdays for grade school children under artist Rosemary Murphy. The class is sponsored by the Baldwin Community Arts Council, the Lumberyard Arts Center and other entities. A holiday arts sale also has taken place there.

"It's not going to waste. We're using it now," Cardens said.

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