County provides grant money to preserve local heritage, resources; ECM denied because of standing with IRS

The Douglas County Commission on Wednesday approved the awarding of nearly a quarter-million dollars worth of grant money to seven projects that will help preserve several local historical structures and construct museum exhibits.

The grants, made up of public funds, are part of the county’s Heritage Grant Program, which annually hands out around $250,000 to various projects that preserve Douglas County’s heritage and natural resources.

However, the commission backed away from awarding a $106,000 grant to Ecumenical Campus Ministries because of “issues with their (nonprofit) status and pending decisions with the (Internal Revenue Service),” according to Commissioner Nancy Thellman.

Loring Henderson, the interim director of ECM, could not comment on the situation Wednesday. Thellman said it was her understanding, after previous discussions with Henderson, that it was a matter of failing to “file paperwork in a timely manner.”

The Heritage Conservation Council recommends how much grant money applicants should receive. The council recommended giving ECM, 1204 Oread Ave., a $106,000 grant, the largest amount this year.

The grant would have gone to a construction project to address “deterioration and size of the parking lot and building structures” by moving two nearby water towers and building a low-level parking garage, according to the program’s documents.

“I can’t recommend that we move forward with ECM being awarded a major grant,” Thellman said. “I would just say certainly this organization is an amazing organization in a historic building, but I think it’s important we’re funding organizations that are in good standing with their 501(c)(3) status and taxes.”

This year’s grants are:

• $85,125 to the Douglas County Historical Society. The money will go toward infrastructure improvements to the third floor of the Watkins Museum of History.

• $52,000 to the city of Lawrence for the restoration of the receiving vault at Oak Hill Cemetery that was built in 1884.

• $40,000 to the city of Lecompton to renovate and preserve the Radical United Brethren Church, which is currently used as a community building. It was constructed in 1906 after the original structure burned down.

• $21,060 to Black Jack Battlefield Trust Inc. for a project that will stabilize the interior of the Robert Hall Pearson Farmhouse. The structure is at least 125 years old.

• $16,400 to St. John the Evangelist Catholic Church for the creation of an exhibit about Mexican families who came to Lawrence in the 1920s to work on the Santa Fe Railway.

• $5,000 to the Kansas Riverkings Museum, which traces the history of people who lived off the Kaw River. After opening in 2014, the museum is beginning its “second stage of development,” according to forms from the Heritage Council.

• $3,540 to the Sante Fe Trail Historical Society of Douglas County for the purchase of desks for the Clearfield School, a one-room schoolhouse from 1903.