Archive for Thursday, March 24, 2005

Regional Prisons Museum proposed

March 24, 2005, 12:00 a.m.

Updated: March 24, 2005, 12:01 p.m.

Lansing City Council members will be asked to weigh in on the idea of the city operating a museum dedicated to a longtime staple of the Lansing and Leavenworth areas: the prisons.

Shanae Randolph, the city's economic development director, will present plans for the Kansas Regional Prisons Museum to the council during a study session planned for 7 p.m. today at City Hall, 800 First Terrace.

"This is just a concept right now. We're trying to get the council members to see if they're interested in pursuing something like this," Randolph said.

As envisioned, the city-operated museum would be situated behind the existing Lansing Historical Society Museum on Kansas Avenue. It would display items of historical significance from the Lansing Correctional Facility, U.S. Penitentiary at Leavenworth, the U.S. Disciplinary Barracks at Fort Leavenworth and, perhaps, items from the Corrections Corporation of America prison in Leavenworth.

"Our area is very unique in that it is home to the state's oldest and largest prison, the oldest federal prison and the oldest military prison in the country," Randolph said.

About two years ago, members of the Lansing Historical Society and officials with the city and Lansing Correctional Facility began working to obtain the return of the gallows used for executions at the Kansas State Penitentiary. A committee began studying the feasibility of an addition to the Lansing Historical Museum that would house the gallows. From those beginnings, the idea of the Kansas Regional Prisons Museum evolved, Randolph said.

In addition to the prison museum, the city also would staff the Lansing Historical Museum, which would continue to exhibit railroad equipment and other items from Lansing's past.

If the council embraces the concept, look for organizers to put their plans in high gear.

"We're trying to have it fast tracked," said Mayor Kenneth Bernard, who also has been working on the plan. "We have the idea; we want to get going and see where we stand. We're out looking for grant money. We're looking for contributors. We're looking for anything we can get from the Bureau of Prisons, the federal government, because we just think it's a great idea."

Exhibits could include the gallows, which now belong to the Kansas State Historical Society; replica prison cells; correctional officer uniforms; and "any items of historical significance from the facilities," Randolph said.

The prison museum would have two buildings, one for exhibition space, the other with restrooms and storage. An outdoor courtyard would have a wall/water feature that would pay tribute to workers from the four prisons who died in the line of duty.

"The bottom line to what we're trying to do is capture the heritage of this industry that has employed generations of workers from this area," Randolph said.

The council will meet in executive session at the conclusion of its study session tonight to discuss a legal matter. The study session is scheduled to begin at 7:30 p.m.

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