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NPS Receives Funding to Complete New Sand Creek Visitors' Center

It appeared as just a few sentences at the tail end of the minutes for the Kiowa County Commissioners’ meeting on July 12th.

“[Alexa] Roberts officially announced that the Park Service had received 1.8 million dollars to finish the National Park Service portion of the Murdock project. The completion date for this project is March of 2020. Discussion followed.”

Front of the Murdock BuildingThirty-five simple words delivered in a way that was quiet. Unassuming. Straight to the point. Of course, that’s how the announcement would be delivered. That is, after all, the way of most of the NPS people involved with the Sand Creek Massacre National Historic Site. In fact, that is the way of most of the people who have been involved with the Murdock project over the years.

But only those who are familiar with the project from the beginning would know that behind those 35 words is a story that spans more than a decade and involves initial support from Commissioners Vern Harris, Donald Oswald and Rodney Brown. That support was followed by the dogged determination of (then volunteer and ultimately Commissioner) Cindy McLoud, NPS Superintendent Roberts and Management Analyst Sand Creek Massacre National Historic Site Janet Frederick plus a group of local senior citizens, additional support from McLoud’s fellow commissioners Scott and Oswald as well as Governor Hickenlooper’s office, Senator Cory Gardner’s office, the U.S. House of Representatives and the U.S. Senate.

In 2005, the Sand Creek Massacre site was designated as a National Historic Site, largely due to the efforts of Senator Ben Nighthorse Campbell and other legislators. At that time, the Kiowa County Commissioners entered into an agreement to “help with the site”. About a year later, NPS Site Superintendent Alexa Roberts approached the BOCC and proposed the idea of renovating the Murdock building to serve as a new Welcome Center for the Sand Creek Massacre National Historic Site. The idea was met with interest and soon evolved to include space for the Senior Citizens, who were also looking for a new location.

Initial work involved asbestos abatement, installation of a new roof and stabilization of the back of the building. In 2014, McLoud then began writing grant applications—many, many grant applications. Not all were awarded (they never are), but it is no small feat that she, singlehandedly, has raised more than $1.5 million toward the project, funds which paid for hiring architects with expertise in restoring historic buildings, contracting with general contractors—both locally and regionally based—to shore up the foundation, masons to restore repoint the bricks on the exterior of the building plus a myriad of other projects required to restore the building.

It now appears that the project is finally approaching “the home stretch”, as they say, and the current design of the building’s interior epitomizes the saying “worth the wait” as architect Belinda Zink, who specializes in historic buildings, has truly outdone herself.

As seen from the street, the Murdock project involves the renovation of three two-story adjacent historic buildings located on the southeast corner at the intersection of Maine Street and 13th.

As required by the Secretary of the Interior’s Standards for the Treatment of Historic Properties, the exterior of the buildings has been restored to resemble (within reason) how it looked at the time of construction.

The interior of the three buildings will contain the original brick walls, also preserving the past while providing a warm, artistic and contemporary feeling.

As far as usage is concerned, the building furthest to the north will be occupied by the National Park Service with the ground floor serving as the new Welcome Center for the Sand Creek Massacre National Historic Site.

The ground floors of the other two buildings—that is, the building in the center and the building to its south—will be devoted to the Senior Citizens’ Center; however, it should be noted that the seniors will also be hosting a multitude of events that cater to people of all ages.

Murdock Project - 2nd FloorThe National Park Service will occupy the entirety of the second floor of all three buildings, including the building to the north, in the center and to the south. A portion of the second floor space will be used for National Park Service administrative offices, a conference room and a break room. The remaining space on the second floor will be devoted to an NPS library and an archives room for those individuals doing research related to the massacre.

But perhaps the most stunning physical aspect of the project is the skylight.

The ground floor space of the center building will open up to what appears to be a skylight overhead. The “skylight”, which is actually “glassed in” to reduce sound and the need to heat/cool that entirety of space, will be 15’ x 15’ run a portion of the length of the center building and allow people on the ground floor to have an unobstructed view all the way to the ceiling of the second floor. This architectural feature of design will tie all three buildings together while simultaneously transforming the ground floor of the Senior Citizens’ Center into a space that is open and full of light.

Despite the design that joins the two spaces, the NPS and the Senior Citizens’ Center will function autonomously. Each group will have their own entrance, separate utilities and HVAC. An elevator to the second floor will be located in the NPS space.

The allocation of $1.8 million to the NPS will not finish the interior of all three buildings since the NPS is not occupying the entire three buildings. For the Senior Citizens’ Center, Commissioner McLoud has been writing multiple grants to finish the interior. Given that she’s written all the grants to this point--grants that have funded the enormous amount of work that’s already been done--there’s every reason to hope that she’ll get the project funded in time to meet the 2020 projected deadline.

Superintendent Alexa Roberts has said numerous times—and on the record—that, from the beginning, the people of Kiowa County have been welcoming and supportive of the Sand Creek Massacre National Historic Site. Establishing the new Welcome Center, administrative offices and research facilities directly on Maine Street will only serve to strengthen that relationship and enhance the historical and cultural enrichment the site brings to the county.

In practical terms, which are always a necessary consideration, it should also be noted that both the towns in Kiowa County as well as the county, itself, surrounding areas can expect to see an economic benefit from the NPS facility.

In 2017, almost 7,000 visitors traveled to the Sand Creek site, infusing approximately $XXXX $373,700 into local economies and supporting 7 jobs. Visiting the Welcome Center in a beautifully renovated historic building located on Maine Street is bound to encourage visitors to venture off Highway 287 and actually come into town where other businesses are located. Any “attraction” that causes that response is welcome, but an attraction that is both historically and regionally significant is welcome to an even greater degree.

Murdock Building - 2nd FloorWe live in a time when many people believe—in some cases, even expect—success to be achieved overnight with a minimum amount of effort and risk. Phrases like “slam dunk” or “easy deal” only serve to perpetuate that belief.

But nothing about this project was easy.

At the beginning of the process, a national recession that rivaled the Great Depression impacted funding from philanthropic organizations. Federal regulations dealing with NPS ownership of property required legislative action at the federal level. Rising construction costs with historic, decades long vacant buildings affected budgets. Dozens of grant applications—each one requiring roughly 40 hours just to complete—plus countless tours of the facility and trips to make in person appeals took enormous personal time, energy and focus.

There were no doubt times that those involved questioned whether the project would ever be finished. There was certainly no shortage of people predicting a bad end.

Yet, this small group of people kept on working, year after year, toward that final goal of completion. And, now, the allocation of $1.8 million to the National Park Service is an enormous close-to-the-last step toward making that goal a reality.

There are a multitude of lessons in this, and people can choose the one that suits them best. But perhaps one lesson is the most profound of them all: more than 150 years after that tragic, horrific day, the Sand Creek Massacre continues to teach us about ourselves, about others, about the honor in perseverance and the strength in working together.

Not a bad lesson to learn in these days. Not a bad lesson to learn any day. In fact, it’s hard to think of one that’s better.

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