Fresh Air Baby Camp gets historic grant

Friends of the historic Fresh Air Baby Camp can start making plans for a new roof.

The camp in Wichita’s North Riverside Park recently received $90,000 from the state’s Heritage Trust Fund.

“This will allow us to get the roof done by this summer,” said Kathy Morgan, the city of Wichita’s preservation planner. “We have almost all the windows done now. We need to put some back in, but we have had volunteers working since September.

“I think by this time a year from now, we will have it all done.”

The camp, listed on the National Register of Historic Places since 2007, was one of 18 state historic properties that received a total of $1.1 million in funding. The purpose of the fund is to help restoration projects in Kansas that otherwise might not be able to proceed.

The Kansas Historic Sites Board of Review, which selects the properties, received 45 applications and made its decision on the 18 properties earlier this month.

The grants provide funding for up to 80 percent of what a project is expected to cost. It is the responsibility of the property owners to provide the rest, said Katrina Ringler, grants manager for the preservation office at the Kansas State Historical Society in Topeka..

Owned by the city of Wichita, the Fresh Air Baby Camp was built in 1920 as a one-story, concrete-block building and first operated as a health care center for babies until 1926. Later it was leased to the Girl Scouts of America. The scouting organization stopped using the building in 2000.

It fell into disrepair and was eventually boarded up until concerned citizens in Riverside, North Riverside and Midtown stepped forward to help save it.

Historically it is important because it is one of the last remaining baby camps left in the nation, Morgan said. It was a refuge where mothers could take their newborn children to get away from diseases and infections sometimes found in a city hospital environment and get fresh air. The building served as a nursery with nurses from Wesley Hospital helping staff it.

“The restoration is very much community driven,” Morgan said on Wednesday. “Hundreds of volunteer hours have been donated and people have been fundraising to get this accomplished.”