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Authority okays funds for Superior well and office

The long-discussed Superior Well Pagoda rehabilitation project is set to start next spring, but thanks to an allocation Monday afternoon by the Excelsior Springs Capital Improvements Authority the well’s office, hidden for decades right next door, will also be renovated.

The authority had been dragging its feet this summer with regard to the well, which is located at the corner of Superior Street and Roosevelt Avenue but is perhaps more commonly seen as one of the major landmarks visible from Linear and East Valley parks. It is the last remaining historic well pagoda in Excelsior Springs.

At issue this summer was a run-down and vacant house next door to the east. The house was purchased by the city at a tax sale, but the former owner had an opportunity to redeem the property. When that didn’t happen, city crews last month went in, planning to begin the demolition process.

But what they found inside gave them pause.

“When (Public Works Director) Chad is excited, you know you’ve found something,” said City Manager David Haugland, joking that Birdsong is more likely to raze a structure than work to save it.

But the house contained a hidden historical treasure—the office building that once stood next to the house is still almost 100 percent intact despite the addition of a kitchen, bedroom carport and porch.

In the weeks since the discovery, Birdsong revamped the scope of the project, and adjusted the cost estimates as well. The estimates he provided the authority on Monday were welcome news for the authority—instead of the $200,000 or $300,000 number once tossed around for a complete renovation of the well site, the rehabilitation of both the well site and the office rings in at a somewhat lower $168,080.

In fact, the new version of the project involves a more historically-accurate method of rehabbing the well site. Where a Redi-Rock retaining wall style of work was once planned, Birdsong has now consulted with a local stonemason and instead plans to grind and tuck point the well house. The existing rock wall will be redone with natural rock and stairs that connect the site with the park below, and the catwalk that allows access from the street will be redone as well.

The biggest parts of the plan are the natural rock wall and stairs, estimated at $55,000, the demolition and rehab of the house/office for $50,000, the rehab of the well roof for $14,000, the grind and tuck point of the well house for $12,000 and the concrete for a footer, top slab, a sidewalk connector to the nearby walktrail and the foundation of the stairs for $12,000.

Even so, the authority discussed the matter at some length. While no one was opposed to the plan, some wondered about the ultimate goal.

“What do we do with it?” asked authority member Tray Harkins.

Birdsong admitted there was no end use yet established, but that there were many opportunities. It’s still uncertain whether the water at the well site is usable or even still flowing, but potentially it could be re-established. At the very least, Birdsong said, restoration of the site would help preserve both the historic nature of the location and the safety of the site.

Authority member Bob Ingle echoed Harkins. “The physical site will look better…but it’s only tourism if people come to it,” Ingle said. “Is the value of it ‘being nice in the neighborhood’?”

Councilwoman Sonya Morgan said the location is prominently featured on a tourist map available at the Hall of Waters, and Downtown Excelsior Partnership Executive Director Keith Winge said the well is already a popular destination for tourists because all the other well pagodas are reproductions, while the Superior pagoda is authentic. Betty Bissell, who works in the visitor center at the Hall of Waters, confirmed that the map is used by many visitors to the community.

“It’s a great opportunity to list all of the site on the National Register (of Historic Places),” Winge added. “I could see lots of possibilities down the road, but we don’t have all the pieces of the puzzle.”

He did ask the city to give special consideration to signage that points visitors to the location from the walktrail at Linear Park and from nearby Missouri 10.

The hand-demolition of the outer parts of the house could start this winter, with the well pagoda following next spring.

The authority merely allocated the money from capital improvement funds; the final approval of the expenditures related to the project will have to come from the Excelsior Springs City Council.

By Eric Copeland •

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