FAIRWAY, Kan. — Buildings on a historic site in Johnson County are in poor condition, and it will cost millions to make needed repairs, according to a new report.

The Shawnee Tribe hired an historical architecture firm to study the Shawnee Indian Mission in Fairway.

The Tribe says the report found the site in an “overall distressed condition with many problems that threaten the future” of the buildings, and there is not a plan to restore the Mission that originally opened as a school in 1839.

The Kansas Historical Society and the City of Fairway manage the site, and say that is not true.

While the Kansas Historical Society was not asked to participate in the report commissioned by the Shawnee Tribe, it says it did provide copies of site records to the architecture firm.

“There’s a sense, we feel, of a lack of urgency,” Chief Ben Barnes of the Shawnee Tribe said. “It’s disingenuous to suggest that everything is hunky-dory and all three buildings are just fine because they’re clearly not. They’re clearly not just fine.”

The historical society says some of the issues raised in the report are not accurate, while others will be addressed by its five-year capital improvement plan for the mission.

The Tribe has designated the site as Mission as a Sacred Site which means the place is of significant cultural import that the Tribe seeks to protect from any acts of desecration.  

“We have been alarmed at the continued deterioration of this site. It’s alarming for our organization. We feel it’s a monument and a testament to our survival out of a very important period in this country’s history,” Barnes said.

Shawnee Tribe Statement

Despite what the Kansas Historical Society says, Shawnee Tribe leaders said they’ve discussed the study, and its findings, and claims there is not a plan to repair the problems at the mission.

According to the Shawnee Tribe, the study found the following issues:

  • Buildings in Significant Disrepair
    • Roofs on all three buildings show signs of significant deterioration
      • East Building needs new roof “before next major rain or snow season”
    • Buildings need significant repair and maintenance work
    • Repointing of brickwork on all buildings needed to keep them watertight
    • West Building needs extensive repairs partially due to a water leak in 2013

According to the Kansas Historical Society, replacing the wood shingle roof on all three buildings is a top priority. It is also included in the sites five-year capital improvement plan.

The current roofs were installed in 2002 and are nearing the end of the 25-year life span. The roofs are not currently leaking and are regularly monitored, according to the historical society.

  • Historically Significant Elements Already Lost
    • 2013 water leak in West Building destroyed all interior finishes
    • 2021 HVAC leak destroyed interior finishes in the North Building

The West Building is currently mothballed until its future use is determined, according to the Kansas Historical Society.

The Historical Society said it replaced the entire HVAC system in the East Building this past summer. 

  • Restoration Efforts Hampered
    • Assessment of prior work to buildings hampered by limited availability of records
    • Unable to determine which features are original due to poor record keeping
    • Past stabilization/waterproofing cited as “below grade” in report
  •  Ongoing Conditions
    • East and North Buildings show signs of ongoing water leak issues
    • West Building may or may not have water leak issues

The historical society says it invites Fairway leaders, the Shawnee Indian Mission Foundation, and tribes to be involved in the plan for the building’s future.

  • Estimated Costs to Repair and Restore
    • Shawnee Tribe wants site restored and repaired, including refurbishing all windows
    • Likely to cost more than the $13 million estimate provided in December 2021

The Kansas Historical Society has been the steward of this important site since 1927 and has preserved the property at the highest preservation standards as they have evolved over time and will continue to do so in the future.

Kansas Historical Society Statement

Fairway officials said the Shawnee Tribe has not provided it with the results of the study, so it cannot comment on it, but did say it is under the impression that the firm requested minimal information from the Kansas Historical Society to help in the study.

Sadly, this attempt by Chief Barnes to disparage KHS and the City over the conditions of the
buildings is not his first. In the spring of last year, Chief Barnes lobbied a national organization to
label the site as “endangered” using the same ARG report mentioned above. Fortunately, that
designation did not occur, though we anticipate that issue has not fully passed.

City of Fairway

The Shawnee Tribe says it asked Kansas lawmakers to allow it to take over management of the historic site. It expects to learn more about the request after lawmakers convene in January.

The Kansas Historical Society has said it is against the Shawnee Tribe taking over the site due to the historical significance of the location.

The Kansas Historical Society is on record as opposing conveyance of the site to the Shawnee
Tribe due to the sites’ historical significance to the state. It is widely considered the most
historically significant site in the state of Kansas.

City of Fairway

The City of Fairway also said there is no guarantee the site would remain open to the public if the Shawnee Tribe takes control of it. It is also concerned that the Shawnee Tribe would not maintain the buildings, and could instead use it for economic development.