There is no doubt that the east Lawrence depot that connects the city to Amtrak rail services needs some work.
It is, however, extremely unlikely that acquiring the building in hopes of improving and perhaps restoring it as a historical structure is a good investment for the city, at least for now.
A dedicated group of local preservationists is scheduled to talk to Lawrence city commissioners tonight about the depot's future. Representatives of the Burlington Northern Santa Fe Railway, which owns the depot, have indicated they might consider donating the structure to the city if they were allowed to retain some office space there. Accepting that donation would give the city control over the building, its potential renovation and perhaps a historical designation.
It also would open the door, however, to many costs including the cost to make the building comply with the provisions of the Americans With Disabilities Act and increased costs for liability insurance coverage. Federal funds might be obtained to help with a renovation, but a local match likely would be required on what is sure to be a costly project.
It's easy to see why BNSF would be willing to give up this building. The transfer would make all of the depot's delayed maintenance issues, not to mention future maintenance costs, someone else's problem.
It's more difficult to see any reason the city would want to take on that responsibility, especially when it is facing so many pressing infrastructure issues of its own.
Proponents see the depot as a potential historical redevelopment project, something that would help anchor an older neighborhood and perhaps feed tourist traffic in Lawrence. Although the BNSF depot is a good example of the architecture of the 1950s, it doesn't even approach the architectural charm of the Union Pacific Depot in North Lawrence.
It's also hard to imagine the depot serving anything more than a utilitarian role in the community because of its size and location. It isn't big enough to house most businesses, and its location isn't the most desirable.
The bottom line is that there is really no reason for anyone to go to the depot unless they are meeting one of two trains that pass through Lawrence either in the middle of the night or the predawn hours. Unfortunately, that gives railroad officials little incentive to properly maintain the facility.
Perhaps that will change. If gasoline prices continue to rise, rail travel may become a more attractive option. If the effort to renew the Northern Flyer route to Wichita and south to Texas succeeds, it would at least double the reasons for people to visit the depot.
The city should play an active role in encouraging BNSF officials to address deferred maintenance at the depot. However, until there are firm plans either for increased rail service there or some strong alternative use for the depot, the city should steer clear of financial responsibility for the building.