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Without a deal, Florence depot slated for demolition

News editor

Townsfolk smarting from watching the former Florence Memorial High School building being demolished may soon see another historic old building, the Florence train depot, meet the same fate.

Bob Rusk of Wichita, president of Florence Community Foundation, has been dealing with Burlington Northern and Santa Fe Railroad for the better part of a decade, hoping to strike a deal and find the resources to save and restore the depot. A solution has been a moving target, Rusk said.

“Every year they get harder to deal with,” he said. “It’s kind of a double-talk thing.”

The original plan was straightforward, Rusk said. BNSF would essentially donate the depot in exchange for the town covering about $6,000 of fees.

Rusk and others set about raising the money through donations to Florence Historical Society, collecting between $5,000 and $6,000.

“We had raised the money to do it, but that’s when they started hardening their heart,” Rusk said.

BNSF remains willing to donate the depot, but now there’s a huge catch: They want the old brick building moved off of their property. Rusk believes BNSF’s biggest concern is a lawsuit if someone were injured.

“My feeling is that if you’re that worried about it, why don’t they have the whole yard fenced?” he said. “My argument has always been just give it to us like you said you would and we’ll build a secure fence as long as you want.”

Unlike the depot in Marion that was turned into the city library, there’s no clear alternative use for the Florence depot beyond restoring it as a complement to the historic Harvey House museum, itself a relic of railroad history.

Rusk has publicized the depot dilemma through a community newsletter and the school alumni association, hoping someone will step forward with a viable solution.

“We’re trying to get the word out there,” he said. “I had another call just this morning from a person who said she was willing to help a little. She didn’t have much money, but she was concerned about it. I know there are people out there who really care about structures like that, but I don’t know how to get to them.”

The original Florence train depot was destroyed by fire Feb. 6, 1904, and there’s not much time before this one will be destroyed, too.

“It’s scheduled for demolition on the eighth of November,” Rusk said. “I’m one to never say never, but we’re at our wits ends where to turn.”

Rusk can be contacted by calling (316) 393-5966, or by email at bobr@ruskb.com.

Last modified Oct. 4, 2017

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