Archive for Thursday, November 17, 2005

Historical Society to pay for study

November 17, 2005

Lansing Historical Society is going to go it alone in contracting for a feasibility study for the proposed Kansas Regional Prisons Museum.

Mayor Kenneth Bernard last month signed a $38,300 contract with Project Explore, an Overland Park-based consulting group, to conduct the study. But questions raised by City Council members caused Bernard to pull the plug on the contract two weeks ago.

Despite a study session last week in which Bernard apologized for how he neglected to keep the council abreast about the contract, council members could not reach consensus on how to proceed.

The impasse led the Historical Society, a private, nonprofit agency, to step in.

"There were problems that arose that the city could not do the contract," said Linda Lockwood, president of the Historical Society. "We'd like to see this go forward because there's a timing issue involved."

The "timing issue" is a late-January application deadline for a grant in the 2007 federal budget. Promoters of the prison museum had hoped to attach the feasibility study when the application is made for the grant to the offices of Kansas' U.S. Sens. Sam Brownback and Pat Roberts and U.S. Rep. Jim Ryun, whose district includes Lansing. Project Explore had agreed to complete the study within the time frame.

An architect's rendering shows the front of the proposed Lansing Regional Prisons Museum.

An architect's rendering shows the front of the proposed Lansing Regional Prisons Museum.

"The project was put on hold, and rather than wait for next year - which would put another year's delay on the museum - we thought if we step in we can get this going again," Lockwood said.

Pared down

Lockwood said the society the city and Project Explore had renegotiated the contract.

"Because we didn't have the money for the full contract, we negotiated down what they're going to do," she explained.

For the contract Bernard originally had signed with Project Explore, the Historical Society had agreed to pick up $25,534 of the cost. The remaining $12,767 was to be paid for by the city with about $8,000 in profits from Lansing DAZE events and a $1,000 gift from Corrections Corporation of America. The remaining $3,767 was to be raised by the funding subcommittee of the city-appointed Kansas Regional Prison Museum Committee.

The total price of the new contract is $25,534 - the same amount the Historical Society had agreed to fund under the first contract - but the study no longer will include an education component for the proposed museum.

City Administrator Mike Smith, who was involved in the second round of contract negotiations with Project Explore, said the new contract limits the study largely to economic issues.

"Economics is the area we feel we need to focus on more, to be able to apply for the federal money," he said.

Cash basis

Smith said Project Explore officials had agreed to supply the city with a letter of release from the first contract. The letter makes moot concerns whether the city violated the Kansas cash-basis law, which prohibits governing bodies from incurring a debt in excess of funds on hand to pay for the debt. Blackwell had said the council was in jeopardy of violating the law since it did not budget for the $3,767 that was to be raised by the subcommittee.

"The city - none of the players involved - intentionally violated any laws," Smith reiterated Tuesday. "But we needed to slow down; we got a little ahead of ourselves."

Bernard, in his apology last week, talked about how the pace undertaken by the Kansas Regional Prisons Museum led to problems.

"Were there mistakes made? Probably. Was there any intent to do anything illegal? Absolutely not," Bernard said at the beginning of the study session discussion.

He said committee members were merely trying to get the feasibility study completed in time to meet the late-January deadline to be in line for a grant in the 2007 federal budget.

"I'm sorry if I offended anybody by not keeping you informed. We were on a fast track. Probably the biggest mistake was going too fast," he said.

New year changes

Smith said the city backing away from the study was, in retrospect, the better idea - at least until the beginning of 2006.

The city had agreed to a Jan. 1 takeover of the Lansing Historical Museum, 115 E. Kansas Ave., which has been operated by the Historical Society. The changeover will allow the city to extend the museum's hours from the current six hours a week to more than 30 hours a week. In addition, the city will hire a site supervisor to oversee the existing museum and work on securing grants toward the Regional Prisons Museum.

As part of its agreement with the city, the Historical Society agreed to transfer all but $1,000 of its assets and funds to the city. During a public meeting in August, Lockwood had said the transfer would be "more than $20,000 to the new building fund."

Those funds will be used for the study, but Lockwood said it was in keeping with her earlier statement to the council.

"It was always - always - our intent for the money to go to the city and to go directly to the new museum," she said. "The feasibility study is for the new museum."

Lockwood said she hoped the Historical Society taking over for the funding of the feasibility study would lay to rest the acrimony over the initial contract with Project Explore.

"We would like for this to not look like a continuing battle," she said. "The committee is just beginning on this museum. It's a huge project, a tremendous project, and we don't want it to start out negatively."

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