Archive for Thursday, March 31, 2005

Congressman likes plans for prisons museum in city

March 31, 2005

City officials made a pitch Wednesday to U.S. Rep. Jim Ryun for help in securing funding for a Regional Prisons Museum in Lansing.

The luncheon presentation at the Leavenworth Country Club was presided over by Mayor Kenneth Bernard and attended by Ryun and members of his staff, members of the Lansing City Council, city staff, Leavenworth County Commission Chairman Clyde

Graeber, representatives of the Lansing Correctional Facility, the U.S. Penitentiary at Leavenworth, the U.S. Disciplinary Barracks at Fort Leavenworth and Corrections Corporation of America, and economic development officials.

For his part, Ryun said he was impressed with the plans for the museum, which would be situated behind the existing Lansing Historical Society Museum on Kansas Avenue.

"I think it's a great project," he said.

Securing federal support might, however, be an uphill road. Ryun said Congress was in the midst of a "not untypical year" in that funding for such projects likely would be tight. He did pledge to do what he could, including writing letters in support of federal grants. He also promised to work closely with U.S. Sen. Sam Brownback, R-Kan., who is a member of the powerful Senate Appropriations Committee, to try to secure funding.

Only a week ago, the Lansing City Council put its weight behind the plan after hearing about it in a study session.

Council members were told the museum would include two buildings, the main exhibit hall designed to complement the limestone facade of the nearby Lansing Correctional Facility, complete with faux guard towers.

It would include artifacts from the area prisons, likely including the original gallows from the old Kansas State Penitentiary. The gallows currently are in storage with the Kansas State Historical Society in Topeka.

Other prison museums

The idea for a prison museum isn't original to Lansing. City staff members say these museums operate near current or former state penetentiaries.

¢ Oklahoma Prison Historical Museum, McAlester, Okla.

¢ Anamosa State Penitentiary Museum, Iowa

¢ Museum of Colorado Prisons/Territorial Prisons, Canon City, Colo.

¢ Texas Prison Museum, Huntsville, Texas.

¢ Louisiana State Penitentiary Museum, Angola, La.

"Our research indicates there is no other county in the United States with four prisons," Bernard told Ryun. "It's a very unique feature."

Charlie Gregor, vice president of the Leavenworth-Lansing Area Chamber of Commerce, told Ryun that visitors to the community always are asking about the prisons.

"We have thousands of people who come through my office, most of them visitors in the summer, and the most asked question is, Can we go into the prisons? Are there tours of the prison?" Gregor said.

"I know that this would be a boon, not simply for the local community, but I think for Northeast Kansas."

The city has estimated the cost of the museum at $1 million, but Bernard said he was hopeful it could be built without a large investment of city tax dollars.

"We don't want to invest a whole lot of city tax money to build a museum that we can build without," Bernard said, noting he was hopeful the city could use a mix of state, federal and private grants along with community donations to get the facility up and running.

As for operating costs, Bernard said the Lansing Correctional Facility had agreed to donate water and sewer costs since the museum is on state-owned property.

He said he hoped the remainder, including a full-time staff member, would be paid for through a mix of admission fees and gift-shop sales.

The city staff's research showed that prison museums in nearby states drew from a low of 1,600 annual visitors in Iowa to more than 25,000 annual visitors in Texas. None of the museums, however, focused on more than one prison.

Bernard said he hoped the museum could be up and running soon, though he gave no specific timetable.

"I think we have a great project going here," Bernard said. "We've been working on it only six months, but it's going rapidly."

After the luncheon, Bernard and City Administrator Mike Smith gave Ryun a tour of the site of the proposed museum.

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