Long-sought restoration of Santa Fe depot delayed after no bids received

The Santa Fe depot in East Lawrence is shown in this file photo from 2013.

Already years in the making, the approximately $1.4 million restoration of the Santa Fe Station is facing another delay.

The Kansas Department of Transportation recently solicited bids for the restoration of the 1950s-era train depot, but no contractors submitted a bid. City officials said the project is now being re-bid after addressing technical issues with the bid proposal.

Assistant City Manager Diane Stoddard said potential contractors expressed concerns that some of the proposed specifications posed challenges, especially given the historic preservation requirements.

“There are a lot of work-arounds with the historic surfaces that we don’t want to be disturbed,” Stoddard said. “There’s just some challenges from a contractor perspective when they’re dealing with that kind of a renovation versus a complete gutting of the entire space and starting all over again.”

The station, located at Seventh and New Jersey streets, has had limited upkeep over the years, and in 2013 the city won a $1.2 million KDOT grant to restore the building. The one-story brick station is an example of mid-century modern architecture, and a local preservation group, Depot Redux, helped lead the restoration effort.

Originally, the city’s contribution toward the restoration was estimated to be about $160,000. Stoddard said the city will have a better idea of the total project cost once bids are received, and she also noted that the city is attempting to leverage state historic tax credits for the project.

Renovations to the station will include a new roof, structural repairs, heating and cooling system improvements, a solar installation, site improvements and upgrades required by the Americans with Disabilities Act, according to the city’s website. The state is overseeing the project and originally solicited bids in September.

Stoddard said the state is re-bidding the project this month after reworking the bid proposal. She said the changes are to specific materials and methods, and don’t amount to scaling back the restoration. For example, she said an aspect of the roof replacement has been changed (asphalt versus tar) because there aren’t contractors available in the immediate region to do the replacement as originally specified.

“These changes are technical changes; they aren’t anything that is going to affect the end product,” Stoddard said.

The renovation and the city’s takeover of the station have taken years to negotiate. The Burlington Northern Santa Fe Railway owns the property, and donated the building to the city. The station is also an active railway stop, and Amtrak leases part of the property to operate its Southwest Chief route. The route runs between Chicago and Los Angeles and makes two daily stops in Lawrence.

Who will own the land the building sits on is currently undetermined. In May, the railway decided to also donate the land to the city. Previously, the railway was going to retain ownership and lease the land to the city for a nominal cost. The City Commission approved the land donation, but Stoddard said that deal was put on hold when reviews, such as environmental assessments, couldn’t be completed within the grant deadline.

“We want to make sure that we are watching out for the city, in terms of our interests, for any acquisition of property if we are going to take on any liability for environmental conditions, for example,” Stoddard said. “In order to do those kinds of things it’s going to take a lot more time than what we had.”

Stoddard said the city is still within the time frame to receive the grant dollars but that completion of the Santa Fe Station restoration will be delayed because of the need to re-bid the project. If the project is successfully bid this month, she said the hope is to have the bulk of the restoration complete in 2018.