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A whale of a mystery at a Lawrence construction site; $1 million expansion set for west Lawrence office building


I’ll leave it up to each of you to decide whether it is fitting on Presidents Day that I have information of a weird and confusing nature to pass along. A mysterious concrete whale has shown up at a Lawrence construction site. (That sentence would fit in a presidential tweet, and there would even be room for an important hashtag, like #RealWhopper.)

An alert reader sent me an email describing how he took his young son by the construction site that is near West Second Street and McDonald Drive, basically next door to the Hallmark Cards plant. He mainly just wanted to show his son earthmoving equipment and some big rocks, but was surprised to see in the pile of rubble, a big concrete whale.

This of course creates many questions: Was it part of a sign for an all-you-can-eat seafood buffet that I somehow did not know about? Can the whale play the post, grab a few rebounds and give Landen Lucas a quick breather now and then? Instead of a Trojan horse is this a Trojan whale, filled with America’s greatest threats, which are either Russians, journalists who report on Russians, or for reasons not entirely clear, Swedes?

In all seriousness, no one seems to know why the whale is there. I sent an email to Lawrence architect Paul Werner who is involved with the construction project. He said he’s not sure about the whale either. The pile of rubble the whale is sitting in appears to be fill dirt that was brought to the site from somewhere else. Likely the whale was part of a demolition of some other project in the area, and it just got scooped up with everything else.

Obviously, this isn’t too important, but I was getting questions from readers about what is under construction at West Second Street and McDonald Drive. Earthwork has started in front of the Comfort Inn and Suites hotel at the corner. So, here’s an update: The site will be home to a new climate-controlled storage facility. Companies that need secure storage will be able to rent space at the facility.

It is the second building project undertaken at the intersection by a group led by members of the Fritzel family. The first project is now complete: An industrial building that houses shop space for construction contractors. Ernie’s Mechanical is a tenant of the building, according to signs on the building.

Werner said construction on the storage facility is expected to begin any day. He didn’t have a lot of new details to share with me on the project, but I have a few from when we reported on the plans for the project back in September 2015. At that time, the plans called for a 14,000-square-foot climate-controlled storage building, an 11,000-square-foot storage building, and a 3,100-square-foot storage building. No word on whether all those buildings will be constructed at once, but look for significant construction to occur on the high-profile intersection (it is next to the Kansas Turnpike interchange) for quite awhile.

In other news and notes from around town:

• Again, in honor of Presidents Day, I have news of a federal project in Lawrence, sort of. Plans have been filed for an approximately $1 million expansion of the office building at 1217 Biltmore Drive in west Lawrence.

According to the plans, the building will become the new home for the Lawrence office of the U.S. Geological Survey. The USGS currently has an office in Lawrence at 4821 Quail Crest Place in west Lawrence. But my understanding is the lease on the facility is set to expire, and the USGS has decided to move into the Biltmore Drive location once it is expanded.

I’ve got an email into a government spokeswoman (maybe I should have used Twitter) to find out more information about the project, such as whether it will mean any new jobs for the Lawrence office. The Lawrence office, I believe, serves as the Kansas Water Science Center for the USGS, and does laboratory work on water.

Indeed, much of the expansion at the Biltmore site is to accommodate a laboratory, according to the plans filed at City Hall.

If you are having a hard time picturing 1217 Biltmore, it is a bit north and west of the Wakarusa and Legends Drive intersection. It is next door to the Lawrence Gymnastics Academy. If I get more information on the project, I’ll let you know.


Samantha Martin 1 year, 3 months ago

Chad, please help, does it say in the code that this type of material from off-site can be hauled, dumped and used as fill dirt for a new project. Fill dirt for what? And didn't Fritzel start filling in the detention pond on this site last year and have to dig it out once. The picture clearly shows besides the whale large sections of concrete pavement and twisted steel along with dirt. Is this consider fill dirt by the City of Lawrence. Is he reducing the size of the detention pond?

Is it okay to haul construction materials from one site to another and bury it, calling it fill dirt. Maybe parts of the Varsity House will be in the next load.

Linda Trotter 1 year, 3 months ago

The whale came from Hutton Farms West when they cleared some lots for construction.

Chad Lawhorn 1 year, 3 months ago

Ok, I'll bite. What was the whale used for out there?

Joe Blackford II 1 year, 3 months ago

AFAIK, the whale, an advertising gimmick, was part of Dinsmoor's plan to operate a toll whitewater ditch from the ski slopes of Mt. Oread to the Garden of Eden; as in "whale of an idea to bring outdoor adventurers to Lucas; while collecting the necessary taxes in Douglas Co. to retire the STAR bonds"

Mike Edson 1 year, 3 months ago

I say it should be refurbished and placed at a key spot along the river trail as a landmark.

Isaias Shannon 1 year, 3 months ago

The whale also sat on the corner of Trail Rd. and Frontier Dr. in 2012-2013 (on the property of Frontier Apartments). It looks a little worse for the wear now.

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