Forget about the city waiting for its ship to come in. Its train finally has arrived.
Lawrence officials have been awarded a federal transportation grant that will pay for 80 percent of the approximately $1.5 million cost of renovating the Santa Fe depot in East Lawrence.
“The building is going to really look loved again,” said Carey Maynard-Moody, the leader of a citizen’s group that has been working for the past five years to spur restoration of the building. “It probably hasn’t looked loved since about 1970.”
The grant will be enough to provide a major makeover to the 1950s-era depot at Seventh and New Jersey streets. Diane Stoddard, assistant city manager, said the grant will be sufficient to complete all the phases of the renovation, including a new roof, heating and cooling systems, electrical work, masonry repairs and repairs to the parking lot and sidewalks.
“It really will be the full, comprehensive restoration project that we have hoped for,” Stoddard said.
City commissioners still need to formally accept the grant, and agree to come up with the approximately $300,000 in local matching funds for the project. The city, however, previously has made it a priority to find matching dollars for federal grants that it has applied for.
City officials also must complete a deal to take ownership of the depot from the Burlington Northern Santa Fe Railway. Stoddard said the railroad company has expressed a willingness to essentially donate the building to the city, although the railroad wants to keep ownership of the land. The city would have a long-term land lease to operate the depot on the property. The city and the railroad also still must settle on who would have the liability for any environmental hazards found on the property.
Stoddard said she hopes to begin discussions with the railroad this summer, and have the restoration project started by late 2014.
The building will continue to be used as a station for Amtrak, whose Southwest Chief passenger train comes through Lawrence twice daily.
Maynard-Moody said despite some possibilities that Amtrak will have to re-route the Southwest Chief because of track problems, she said all indications from Amtrak are that Lawrence will remain on the route. The track issues generally have been in parts of western Kansas, Colorado and New Mexico. “I’m very secure that Amtrak always will stop in Lawrence,” Maynard-Moody said.
Amtrak within the last two years has invested about $1.5 million in the station to improve its boarding platform.
Maynard-Moody said she’ll be interested to see if other ideas emerge for daytime uses for the building. The train only stops at the station at about 5:45 a.m. and 11:45 p.m.
Stoddard said the city will be open to hearing possible secondary uses, but said the space does limit the possibilities. Burlington Northern Santa Fe wants to keeps its offices in the eastern portion of the building. That leaves only the lobby, the old ticket window office and another smaller office that the city will control.
But Maynard-Moody said that once the restoration is complete, people may start coming up with other ideas.
“I know it will be a building that people can be proud of,” she said.
Moody helped found an advocacy group for the building, called Depot Redux, five years ago. The group has nine board members and many volunteers — ranging from train enthusiasts to admirers of the building’s mid-century architecture — who gather once a month to clean the station.
The grant is a Transportation Enhancement grant that is funded by federal dollars but awarded by the Kansas Department of Transportation. State officials several years ago rejected a similar grant request for the building, in part, because the city didn’t own the structure.
“When Diane (Stoddard) told me she wanted to resubmit the grant this year, I thought she was crazy,” Maynard-Moody said. “But she said these things take several rounds. She is very persistent and has a love for the project.”
Maynard-Moody said the grant funding came in the nick of time. She’s not sure how much longer community organizers could have kept up the fight to restore the building. But now, she said there will be no shortage of excitement.
“I had trouble winding down last night after I heard the news,” she said. “I was so excited, I’m exhausted.”