When Lea McCloud attended a Riverside neighborhood meeting in September 2009, she didn't know what she was getting herself into.
Meeting attendees voiced concerns about a building in North Riverside Park. The Girl Scouts had stopped using the cabin, known as Little House, in 2001 because it was deteriorating. Riverside citizens wanted to help save the building before its roof collapsed — and they needed someone to coordinate it.
"In a moment of weakness, I said, 'Well, I could probably do that,' " McCloud said.
A group of about 10 people started meeting to hatch a plan, and they've worked on the project ever since.
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Wichita City Council members are scheduled to vote today on a memorandum of understanding between the group and the city. Under the plan, the city will still own the building and pay for the permit fees, but the group will do the fundraising to restore the building.
The group, known as the Friends of the Historic Fresh Air Baby Camp, wants to save the building because of its significance in Wichita's history. Though many Wichitans associate the facility with the Girl Scouts, it didn't start that way.
Wichita's Fresh Air Baby Camp started in 1920 as a group of tents, but burned down after six months. A group of women then worked to raise the money and build the cabin in three months, said McCloud, the group's development coordinator.
Nurses from Wesley Hospital staffed the facility, which acted like a nursery. The building resulted from a push by the public health department to get children out of the hospital, where many diseases existed, McCloud said.
After six years, the city leased the building to the Girl Scouts, who used it for more than 70 years.
McCloud said it is important to preserve the building's history because it might be the last Fresh Air Baby Camp of its kind in the country. The group is researching camps in Ohio and New York, which might still exist. The National Register of Historic Places listed the Wichita camp in 2007.
Doug Kupper, director of parks and recreation, said the group's proposal surprised the city, which didn't know what to do with the crumbling facility.
"With the economic times they way they are, we were weighing our needs," he said.
The city had started to look at ways to save the building when the group got in touch with them at the beginning of the year. The group wants to start work on the roof this fall, which Kupper said is sooner than the city could have.
"From a city perspective, this is the kind of partnership we're excited to be a part of because it stretches the general taxpayers' dollars," Kupper said.
He estimated the cost of permits the city will pay for the project at about $10,000. Once the project is complete, Kupper said the city plans to use it as it does shelters at other parks. People can rent these buildings for events, like parties or meetings.
Though the project's estimated cost is $500,000, McCloud said the group probably will not have to pay the full amount. Some construction companies have told her they might like to help. She said she hopes to raise the rest of the money from grants and donations.
The Wichita Historic Preservation Board also has to approve each of the four phases of the project. It approved the first phase for the roof on Monday.
The group has three years to raise funds and restore the building under the proposal.
"It really behooves us to get it together and get as much support as we can and get on with it," said Jim Guy, the group's agent of record
The group is a not-for-profit corporation, but it cannot receive donations, McCloud said. Its donations will pass through the Wichita Community Foundation. Construction on the roof can't start until the group has raised $10,000.
And though McCloud jokes that a moment of weakness got her into this project, she doesn't regret volunteering.
"I'm glad I did," she said.