A plan for the city to preserve the old Burlington Northern Santa Fe Railway depot in east Lawrence may be more expensive than city leaders once thought.
City commissioners at their meeting tonight are scheduled to receive a new architectural report that estimates there are $1.35 million worth of improvements that ought to be done to the 1950s-era structure at Seventh and New Jersey streets.
“The price is high, but we believe we can do some of this in phases,” Assistant City Manager Diane Stoddard said.
Commissioners will consider applying for a federal transportation grant to cover much of the cost of the first phase.
City commissioners in 2008 — when they first contemplated buying the building as a way to save the structure and upgrade the city’s depot service for Amtrak — were told by staff members that there likely were about $400,000 in repairs needed for Americans with Disabilities Act issues and another $100,000 in additional improvements.
This summer, though, city leaders thought the city’s cost on the project would go down substantially because Amtrak received $600,000 to address some ADA issues at the building.
But the latest report from Lawrence-based Hernly Associates estimates that even with the $600,000 in stimulus money, the project will need significant amounts of funding. City staff members, though, are noting that the latest report is more encompassing than previous estimates.
“Part of it is probably a difference in terms of just doing the things that we know are needed compared to doing some things to really put a new shine on the facility,” Stoddard said.
Of the $1.35 million worth of recommended improvements, the new report labels about $580,000 of the improvements as “critical.” That includes a new roof, a new geothermal heating system, new bathrooms that are handicapped-accessible, new sidewalks, and a host of smaller issues.
Stoddard said she is hopeful that some of the $600,000 in stimulus money awarded to Amtrak can be used for some of the costs the city currently has factored into the project. The bulk of the money is to be spent upgrading the platform where passengers board the train, but Stoddard said she hopes there is enough money left to do other ADA projects, such as the bathroom renovations. Amtrak officials haven’t yet said how much work they will be able to do with the $600,000.
Staff members are recommending that commissioners apply for $583,411 in federal transportation enhancement grant funding. That would allow the list of critical items to be addressed.
But the grant also could create a budget dilemma for the city. The federal grant requires at least a 20 percent local match, which would be about $120,000. That money has not been included in the city’s budget.
Mayor Rob Chestnut said he had been planning on spending about $80,000 in city funds on the project. He said he’s open to applying for the grant, but hopes that the city would be able to get the necessary work done for less than the $580,000 estimate. That would allow the city to reduce the amount of matching funds it must provide.
City staff members also are still working to finalize an agreement with Burlington Northern Santa Fe to have the building donated to the city in order for the renovations to occur. Chestnut said he now wants city staff members to consider making that donation contingent upon the city receiving grant dollars to make the improvements.
“I don’t want to open ourselves up to some sort of open-ended liability with this project,” Chestnut said.