The effort to save the historic railroad depot in Storm Lake is becoming more ambitious and complex - so much so that a volunteer committee has requested a six-month extension from the Canadian National Railroad to formulate its plan for moving the 1915 structure.
A new alternative site on Storm Lake's east side is under consideration for the depot, where the project could be expanded into a more elaborate "historical village" development. And a second depot has been rediscovered on an area farm, prompting the volunteers to consider expanding their project to two depots.
"We started out just with the idea to try to renovate the Illinois Central depot in its current site, and then it became a moving project, and now we're talking about a historical village," said Brad Strader, head of the Save the Depot volunteers. "It has really blossomed."
The IC depot, listed on the National Register of Historic Places, was once planned for demolition by the railroad, which hoped to replace it with a modern storage building. The railroad refused requests to turn the building over to the locals for preservation into a museum, fearful of the liability of having a public site located adjacent to a rail line that is still heavily used.
In October, the volunteers proposed moving the depot to the site of the current chamber of commerce parking lot off Railroad Street, behind Medicap Pharmacy, and the railroad asked for a plan to be filed by the end of the year.
However, Strader said that Project AWAYSIS representatives have approached him to propose an alternate site - in the east area of the city near the Gateway Lighthouse. The owner of a land site in that area is being contacted to see if there may be an interest.
"At the east side location, there would be an opportunity to have the land for future developments into a historical village attraction. Downtown might be a more convenient site for people to get to, but there wouldn't be that kind of space available," Strader said.
Strader also plans to meet with the Buena Vista County Historical Society board on Tuesday to see if that group has any interest in a cooperative effort. He notes that the historical society faces the likelihood of moving their Prairie Heritage exhibit with its log home and one-room school, and Strader wonders if combining forces with the depot could create an even more important attraction.
City officials have proposed to move the school and cabin into the AWAYSIS project area, to be located around the current site of a metal-covered picnic shelter adjacent to the campgrounds.
As the depot group has new options to think about, it did not meet the railroad's deadline of a firm plan by the end of December. Group member Hugh Perry formulated a written request for an additional six months for the group to firm up its plans on what to do with the depot. The railroad has not yet responded, or guaranteed that it will not demolish the depot.
Meanwhile, the project could expand to two depots.
The group learned that an old Milwaukee Railroad depot that was once located around the present site of Pizza Hut, still exists in reasonably good condition. Long after the railroad pulled out of Storm Lake, a woman bought that depot and moved it to her farm north of Lake Creek County Club, where the wooden frame depot still sits in good condition. The woman passed away recently, and group member Charlie Slagle is checking to see if her heirs have any interest in making the structure available to their historical preservation effort.
The building date of the Milwaukee depot is not yet known. It is first mentioned in local history books in 1914 - when a dog chased the staff out and held them at bay in the depot for some time.
Strader said that he envisions the former Illinois Central depot being renovated into a Storm Lake Community Welcome Center, while the smaller Milwaukee depot could be located nearby, perhaps housing historical exhibits.
Strader is also approaching Buena Vista University's communications department. He said that if the restoration project advances, he hopes students can become involved in developing interactive and video exhibits for the site to explore the history of railroading in the region.
The Save the Depot committee plans to hire architect Johnny Boyd, a former Storm Laker who specializes in historical buildings. Architectural services are expected to cost up to $8,500, and costs for moving and restoration could well reach $325,000.
The group has no treasury, and will start to plan a community fundraising campaign. Veteran fundraiser Clarence Richardson of Storm Lake has volunteered to lead that effort. The fundraising goal is initially set at $150,000. The committee then hopes to leverage the local money into State Historical Society grants.