Smith County transcendental meditation center stalls

SMITH CENTER — Eleven buildings — each one identical and perfectly aligned to face directly east — still sit empty on the windswept prairies northeast of here, more than three years after construction first started.

That inactivity, on the part of the transcendental meditation folks who were building what would be known as Maharishi Central University, suits area residents just fine.

"Right now, as far as we can tell, they're on hold," said Smith County Commissioner Arthur Kuhlman.

That's exactly right, according to Kent Boyum, ecologist and economic director for Maharishi Vedic City in Iowa.

"I'm not focusing on Kansas as much," he said in a telephone interview recently.

For a time, Smith Center had been something of a focal point for the group that subscribes to the teachings of the late Maharishi Mahesh Yogi's transcendental meditation. The group initially had talked of building a new city, first known as the world capital of peace and later the U.S. Peace Government, but that's an idea that apparently has been pushed onto the back burner.

Before anything to do with the city got started, attention turned to construction of the university, which supporters had hoped eventually would house 40,000 of the nation's brightest students.

So far, no student has walked through the halls of what would be known as Maharishi Central University.

Today, there's no activity at the university. Concrete on the buildings reportedly is crumbling, and shingles on at least one building have been lifted up by the blustery winds and tossed onto the Kansas countryside.

The protective wrap on that building still is clinging to its outside walls, but it now is tattered and would no longer perform its intended task.

Area residents, still reluctant to talk, wouldn't mind if the TMers walked away from the project and never looked back.

Kuhlman and the other Smith County commissioners have given the group a chilly reception. He said the group did sell off a small parcel of land, a piece Boyum said no longer was needed. The group still owns the land where the city was to be located, as well as the university ground.

The group is paying taxes.

"I guess their taxes are right up to date," Kuhlman said. "That's the only thing we care about."

Commissioners, he said, have had no contact with the group since it last came in asking for support for a $38 million bond request from the state. The group didn't get the support, which killed any chances of getting the money.

Boyum said the financial crash has affected Global Peace finances as well.

"We're all looking forward to better economic times," he said.

When that happens, Boyum said, they could move ahead with efforts to complete the university project.

Until then, Gary Weisenberger has been tending to the properties, growing crops.

"We're growing organic wheat and corn, sunflowers and milo," he said.

Weisenberger said he subscribes to the transcendental meditation practices.

"I'm a Kansan that has meditated for many years," he said. "I heard about the project and went over to offer my services."