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Improvements planned for North Lawrence grain elevator, but towers aren't coming down; new schedule for city compost and woodchip sales


North Lawrence's skyscrapers aren't going anywhere. In case you aren't familiar with North Lawrence's chic skyscraper district, it also is known as the Ottawa Co-op grain elevators at North Third and Locust streets. And some of you have been worried that their time may be limited because demolition crews have arrived on the site.

But there is no need to worry, Adrian Derousseau, general manager of the Ottawa Co-op, told me this morning. The massive grain silos that tower over North Lawrence absolutely aren't going to be torn down.

"They're actually in good shape," Derousseau said.

But the scale house and old milling plant that are on the west end of the towers are in the process of being demolished. Derousseau said the milling plant hadn't been used for at least 25 years, and it made navigation of the elevator site more difficult than it needed to be.

"It is just a mess, and we can't keep it clean the way we want to," Derousseau said.

Derousseau said the plan is to tear down both the scale house and milling plant, and then build a more efficient scale house prior to this year's fall harvest. When that is complete, Derousseau said the elevator may become a busier place. Recently, the co-op has only used the North Lawrence elevator as a transfer station, meaning that farmers haven't been directly delivering their crops to the facility. Instead, all crops are delivered to the Midland Junction elevator north of North Lawrence.

Once the scale house has been built, Derousseau said the co-op will consider opening up the North Lawrence elevator full-time during the harvest season. That may take some pressure off the Midland facility and allow farmers to get back into the fields quicker.

Even if you aren't a farmer, you may benefit some from the project. Derousseau said removing the scale house and milling operation will greatly improve the visibility for motorists at the corner of North Third and Locust.

Derousseau said the North Lawrence grain towers, which store about 840,000 bushels of grain, are an important part of the co-op's storage system. Derousseau said if anything, more grain storage in the Lawrence area is needed. He said the company would like to add more towers at the Midland Junction site, but the soil type near the Midland site is creating engineering difficulties.

The North Lawrence towers have become a Lawrence landmark. They can be seen from quite a distance, and they're one of the things that reminds us that we're still in Kansas. Just how long they have been in place was a little tough to determine this morning. Derousseau said he's been in the grain elevator business in this area for 37 years, and he noted the North Lawrence towers certainly weren't new when he first saw them.

They are old enough that people have become attached to them, I guess. When the demolition trucks started to show up, I got several inquires from people worried about what was going on.

"We have thought about painting a big Powercat on them," Derousseau said jokingly of the K-State mascot. "They may feel different about them after that."

I don't expect to see that anytime soon, but construction work on the new scale house is expected to begin by early summer.

In other news and notes from around town:

• I know of some gardeners who build something similar to an 840,000 bushel elevator in their backyards to store the compost that the city sells twice a year. Compost is black gold to some gardeners, and now the city is announcing changes to how it will run both its compost and mulch sales.

For years, the city has held two sales per year for woodchips and compost that are produced from yard trimmings and tree limbs picked up through the city's curbside yard waste program. Now, the city plans to cut back to one major sale per year but offer the material for sale every Saturday for those people who want to bring their own shovel and load it themselves. At the one big sale per year, the city will still provide a big scoop loader that will allow people to buy the material by the pickup truck load.

The Saturday self-load sales will begin in March — this Saturday — and run from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.. The site will be open each Saturday through mid-December. Plans are to charge $10 per pickup load. I'm not sure whether the city will offer a discounted rate for people who buy significantly less than a pickup load. I'm also not sure how long it takes to get a full pickup load of mulch or compost loaded by hand. If it becomes a common practice, though, I already can envision mean gangs of gardeners roaming the city with bulging biceps from all the heavy loading they do. (Good gardener gang name: The Germinators.)

The big compost and woodchip sale where the city will do the loading for you is set for 8 a.m. to 3 p.m. on March 27-29. The city will charge $10 for a big two cubic yard bucket scoop load. The sale and Saturday events will take place at the woodchip and compost facility, which is just east of the 11th and Haskell intersection.

The city also has changes planned for when residents can drop off woody debris, lawn clippings and garden waste at the facility. The woodchip and compost area will open a month earlier than normal and will have expanded hours. The area will be open to residents beginning on March 1 and will have hours of 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. The cost for residents to drop off debris will be $5 per pickup truck load.

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  • Comments

    Sarah St. John 4 years, 3 months ago

    "Just how long they have been in place was a little tough to determine this morning."

    Chad, perhaps I can be of some assistance here:

    (With pictures, even! And believe me, they weren't common in the 1913 J-W!)

    Chad Lawhorn 4 years, 3 months ago

    I just read the link. Are those the grain elevators in North Lawrence, or is that a grain elevator where City Hall sits today? It was before my time, but my understanding is that there was a large grain elevator about where City Hall is today. In fact I wrote about it once. It produced one of the better quotes I've ever gotten. Former City Manager Mike Wildgen said that area of downtown prior to City Hall looked it was from the Industrial Revolution era: "It was like you were waiting for a little urchin to come out and say 'Can I please have some more sir?'" http://www2.ljworld.com/news/2010/aug...

    Sarah St. John 4 years, 3 months ago

    Yep, I think you and the commenters are correct -- the 100 Years Ago ones must have been the old ones on the City Hall site. It says they were part of the Bowersock property, and I guess it doesn't make sense that Bowersock would build them across the river from his mill! Also, it says they were built along the Santa Fe tracks -- again, this would put them right there "under" current City Hall, wouldn't it?

    From the description of their construction, I'm surprised they managed to tear them down -- those things sound like they were pretty solid! Kinda like the old story of the old river bridge that was "too decrepit" to go on using, but when they went to tear it down in the 1970s, it was very stubborn about being demolished! (That was before my time -- I got here in the mid-80s -- but I heard this from long-time residents.)

    Nick Combs 4 years, 3 months ago

    Looks like they were the old City Hall grain elevators. The NoLaw ones are single row and much taller than that.

    Ralph Gage 4 years, 3 months ago

    Definitely there were grain elevators where city hall now stands, and I believe the foundations or remnants of some can be seen from the walkway between city hall and the parking garage. Across the street from city hall, where the Journal-World production area is, was a decrepit mill facility. When it was razed to prepare the site for J-W presses, an old brick utility tunnel was uncovered. It was an amazing discovery. It was believed it had been used to run lines for power generated at the dam to areas of downtown.

    Steve Phillips 4 years, 3 months ago

    Back in the late 1970s, we used to go exploring in the old mill and grain elevator where city hall is now. They were no longer used, and obviously hadn't been for quite a while. We were just exploring, no vandalism or theft. I climbed to the top of the old grain elevator several times up a long ladder that went up a tiny one person elevator shaft. Power to the elevator was still on, but it was too old to trust. Looking down into the huge, empty grain bins was scary. I still have photos that I took from the very top of the grain elevator.

    The old mill was fascinating. It still had all the old machinery, sifters and such, and miraculously power was still on in the mill and you could turn the machinery on, although it made a hell of a racket. The way workers got up and down between the floors was with a big endless loop leather belt, maybe a couple feet wide with little platforms on it that ran through holes in the floors. (Yes, we turned it on too.) We did find the tunnels over to the old barbed wire building, and such.

    Mr. Hill caught us once, but was nice enough just to show us the door to leave. I wish I had taken photos of the old mill too.

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