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Kathryn Focke Advocates to Preserve First Christian Church

(The letter below is the submission from Commissioner Kathryn Focke, asking the State Historic Preservation office to place the First Christian Church on the historic register.)

Patrick Zollner

Deputy State Historic Preservation Officer

Mr. Zollner:

I’m writing to you both as a citizen of Riley County and an elected County Commissioner in support of the application to the historic register of the First Christian Church, now owned by the citizens of Riley County.

I was present at the May, 2020 meeting of the Riley County Commission when they purchased the property, sight unseen, and questioned the actions of the commissioners. I was campaigning to replace one of them at the time. They voted at the end of their term in 2020 to pass the decision for the future of the property to the incoming commission. I was surprised at the time that they didn’t demolish it in the 8 months prior to the seating of the 2021 commission if that’s what they intended at the time of purchase.

In January, after being sworn in, I knew that we would have to address the issue in the 2021 session, and began searching for various possibilities for the building. I visited other historic properties in the county that had been renovated and repurposed, and sought the advice of a local architect specializing in historic properties, the Dean of the KSU Dept. of Architecture, the local Preservation Alliance, developers, and other citizens of the city and county. My purpose was to bring this information to the other two commissioners and have an educated discussion on the future of this historic building. Kathy Dzewaltowski and Dean DeNoble came before the commission on April 29 th and urged the commission to take some time to consider the use and fate of the building. The chair of the commission asked for the original architect, Brent Bowman, to come before the body and review his studies from 2006 and 2012. He did so a week later and suggested that he could do an updated study. On the same day, the director of public works made a short presentation stating that the building

needed to be demolished and the lot planted to grass (with no logical reason). The chair of the commission called for a vote on that day with no consideration given to the possibility to preserve and repurpose the building.

A question has been raised in the two commissioner’s letter to this committee as to “why the church was not included in the city’s historical district?” I have heard that it was because the church was not a business or a public building at the time. Whether or not this was the case, it doesn’t pertain to the issue before this board.

After several years of sitting vacant, there is no sign of pest infestation, water damage, structural problems or deterioration and I have yet to see an itemization of any maintenance costs. The county approved removal of asbestos and bids are to be reviewed in the coming weeks.

Originally I had been interested in the 2009 church structure and how it could be saved, but after many visits to the interior and exterior, study of the architectural plans from 1961 and in reading the history and evolution of the structure, I am convinced that renovation and repurposing for the entire building is the best plan going forward. I have gone on record against demolition and will continue to do so.

In closing, I would strongly support the application for the First Christian Church, Manhattan, KS, to be placed on the state and national registers of historical places. Thank you for your time and consideration of this historic and beloved building in our community.

Kathryn G. Focke

429 Stone Glenn Drive

Manhattan, KS 66503


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