Supporters of the Shawnee Indian Mission hope its future will be as illustrious as its past.
To help envision what that future might look like, the Indian Mission’s foundation held a public strategic planning meeting in late February in the historic site’s east building in Fairway.
More than 20 people in attendance bounced ideas off each other, shared stories about the site’s past and looked forward to the next chapter in the 178-year-old mission’s life.
“This needs to be a vibrant, integral part of the community, connected with the past but in a way that brings the past forward,” said Kathy Gates, secretary of the Shawnee Indian Mission Foundation. “In addition to money, it’s going to take a lot of time, sweat equity and care.”
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That’s particularly true now, in the wake of several years of reduced state funding. Cuts to the Kansas State Historical Society in 2014 shut the doors of the Indian Mission, home to the Kansas territory’s first school, from October through May.
That changed last summer, when the City of Fairway stepped in to take over day-to-day maintenance of the facility. In the fall, the city hired Jennifer Laughlin to run the Indian Mission on a full-time basis. The position previously had been part-time.
The state still owns the site and oversees major repairs, but its contribution is expected to fall to $16,000 annually by 2019.
The doors to the site, however, are once again open year-round, and the attendees at last month’s event — neighbors, history buffs, arts activists, representatives from the Johnson County Young Matrons and nearby Bishop Miege High School and St. Agnes Catholic Parish — had plenty of ideas for how to keep it vital.
Many stressed the importance of renovating and reopening the site’s west building, the second-oldest building in the state, which has been shuttered for years. Some floated the option of renting out the Indian Mission for weddings, art exhibitions and other events and gatherings.
With the right renovations, the buildings could even one day be home to private office space.
Much of the discussion focused on the land on which the buildings sit. Students could study native plant landscaping, for instance, or a small tallgrass prairie could replicate conditions on the site long before the Indian Mission was built. Conservation of authentic woodland, wetland, glade and savanna ecosystems also is a possibility.
“I think the land has as much of a story to tell as the buildings do,” Gates said.
The meeting was the third in a series of four leading up to a “design charrette,” a day-long event in April led by local non-profit EcoAbet, a group of more than 30 volunteer designers, architect and planners.
Following that, the foundation, the city and the state will complete a plan expected to steer development at the historic mission for the next decade.
The fourth strategic planning meeting, set for March 30, will include input from mayors, administrators and other officials from neighboring cities. Previous meetings featured members of the Fairway City Council and groups that volunteer at the Indian Mission.