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Take a look at the building that East Lawrence residents hope to save from wrecking ball
Out in rural Kansas, where I am from, there have been some historic moments in Quonset huts that dot the farm landscape. Some of them perhaps have involved a Saturday night, a red Solo cup, a tractor, and an unfortunate article in the weekly newspaper. Well, Quonset huts — those metal buildings with a semi-circle roof — have been a part of Lawrence’s history too, and now there is an effort afoot to save one in East Lawrence.
As we reported a few weeks ago, Black Hills Energy is preparing to sell the East Lawrence site that formerly housed its maintenance facility. As part of the sale, Black Hills is planning to tear down the old Quonset hut on the property. But a group of East Lawrence residents and an area businessman are hoping to stop the demolition.
Longtime East Lawrence resident K.T. Walsh is asking city officials to take a hard look at any demolition permit that seeks to tear down the hut. Walsh said Quonset huts are a rare form of architecture worth preserving. She said she’s actually part of a statewide group that is seeking to save the structures. The huts were inspired by a British design that aimed to quickly construct buildings during WW I. The huts were popular in WW II as well, and Walsh said the Black Hills Quonset hut near Eighth and Pennsylvania street is particularly appropriate for the area because it is a reminder of the area’s industrial history.
The hut is across the street from the popular Poehler Lofts apartment building, which is in a multistory, former grocery warehouse building. Tony Krsnich leads the group that developed that property. He’s glad the Black Hills property is set to be sold, but he wants the Quonset hut to remain.
“It would be an absolute shame if that building was lost,” Krsnich told me.
He said he thinks the building could be an interesting music venue, art gallery, restaurant or a host of other uses. He said its wide open design could allow the interior of the building to be renovated in a number of ways.
“There are people in other cities that are trying to build new Quonset huts and make them look old because they are cool,” Krsnich said.
One group who I have heard does not think Quonset huts are cool is firefighters. I’ve had the local fire chief previously tell me that the structures are a real concern when they do catch on fire. The roof design makes them particularly susceptible to a collapse during a fire.
Whether that would play into a decision to tear the building down, I don’t know. Honestly, I’m not quite sure how much ability the city has to deny a demolition permit for this property. Walsh asked city commissioners about the issue last week, and they said they would look into it. We’ll see where the issue goes.
I’ve got a call into Black Hills Energy. A spokeswoman for the company said they were discussing several issues related to the site. If I receive an update from the company, I’ll pass it along.
UPDATE: I did hear back from Black Hills Energy. A spokeswoman with the company said via e-mail that Black Hills has been studying ways to properly sell the site for awhile. One of the issues is that the building sits on the foundation of a former manufactured gas plant that operated from 1869 to 1905. As we previously have reported, that gas plant left behind some environmental issues related to the site. The site has been brought into compliance with Kansas Department of Health and Environment standards, but Black Hills believes it is best to demolish the building so proper testing can be done beneath the building's foundation before the site is sold.
"We understand this property is located in the midst of a vibrant and growing part of Lawrence, and we believe it's important to keep it a safe and functional part of the community," Monique Pope, a spokeswoman for the company said via e-mail.
After that process is complete, Black Hills will evaluate the best uses for the site, Pope said.