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Friday, July 25, 2014

Aviation museum supporters: If there’s money for Botanica, why not us?

By Bill Wilson
The Wichita Eagle

An aviation museum’s pitch for money to upgrade its mechanical systems drew little response from the Wichita City Council on Tuesday.

During a debate over funding for the expansion of Botanica, council member James Clendenin said he’s been besieged by complaints from supporters of the Kansas Aviation Museum, 3350 S. George Washington Blvd., who want similar financial support for mechanical upgrades to the old airport terminal. Up to $1.4 million is needed, supporters estimate, to install heating and air conditioning, add accessible restrooms, an elevator and upgraded electrical and gas service. The low-end estimate for work is $300,000.

But staff said the city has no pending funding commitments to the aviation museum, which is home to about 40 historical aircraft and an estimated 2 million aviation artifacts.

“They’ve asked for $300,000 for improvements to heating, cooling and an elevator,” City Manager Robert Layton said. “Council member Skelton (current Sedgwick County Commissioner Jim) brought it to the council with concerns about getting it into the CIP, but there’s been no firm commitment to the aviation museum for that money.”

Layton said the city’s financial commitment to its museums varies, from ongoing maintenance at the Wichita Art Museum to improvements it paid for at Cowtown and the Mid-America All-Indian Center.

In an e-mail to council members provided to The Eagle, aviation museum supporter Tim Bonnell, president of PIM Aviation Insurance, called the city’s support of Botanica’s new 7,000-square-foot events center good news.

But Bonnell wondered why $1.15 million is available for a facility expansion there while money isn’t available for the aviation museum. Bonnell said the city’s own study, completed at a cost of $75,000 in 2010, determined that the mechanical upgrades are essential to the aviation museum.

“With all due respect to Botanica, it seems odd that the city can afford all this, but not $300,000 for our project,” Bonnell wrote.

Reach Bill Wilson at 316-268-6290 or bwilson@wichitaeagle.com.

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