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Wednesday, July 9, 2014

Future of Greensburg's well remains uncertain

The Wichita Eagle

In terms of town icons, the Big Well in Greensburg is perhaps one of the best known in Kansas. When the May 2007 tornado destroyed the building that housed the world's largest hand-dug well, along with much of the town, city leaders vowed to rebuild.

But now, more than three years later as the town continues to rebuild, city leaders are stumped: How does one rebuild a facility to draw tourists that tells the community's past while promoting its future in green technology?

Greensburg City Council members recently rejected a bid and design from the Kansas City-based architectural firm BNIM for a museum because the bid came in more than $300,000 over the budgeted $3 million.

"If it would have come in $100,000 over we could maybe have played with it, but $300,000 over makes it a steeper price," said city administrator Steve Hewitt.

There was talk in town, Hewitt said, that the building design may have been too distinct and modern and didn't really capture the heritage of Greensburg.

Tuesday night, city officials postponed making a decision for two more weeks.

"I'm not sure exactly what people want," Hewitt said Tuesday afternoon. "We know they want to be really proud of the facility and how it looks. We need a fantastic facility that allows us to draw in visitors to rural America."

Hewitt said the city received a grant of $400,000 to pay for the original design study. If another design study is warranted, city taxpayers will have to pay for it.

Officials wanted more information from Ralph Applebaum, the design consultant, before moving forward, Hewitt said.

"With this study, everything has come in high," he said. "There were per diem and travel costs. We knew there would be some of those costs when we began, but we were hoping the economy would improve and we'd get good pricing. It just didn't come in like we were hoping it would. So, here we go again."

The Big Well was dug in 1888 using shovels, picks, pulley and rope, and mules. It is 109 feet deep and 32 feet across.

Reach Beccy Tanner at 316-268-6336 or

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