WICHITA, Kan. (KSNW) — The Wichita City Council took action Tuesday that could eventually lead to a better parking situation for the Mid-America All-Indian Museum.

It surprised a lot of people when the parking lots across the street from the museum closed in January. Many people did not know there are large underground water reservoirs under the lots.

Underground water storage

Five tanks are part of the city’s Hess Pump Station. The station receives finished water from the treatment plant and pumps the treated water into the distribution system.

This map highlights the two parking lots built over reservoirs at the Hess Pump Station. The Mid-America All-Indian Museum is southeast of the lots. (Courtesy City of Wichita)

Two of the tanks are under parking lots. One was built in 1974 and holds 7.5 million gallons of water. The other was built in 1996 and holds 10.5 million gallons.

In 2018, workers doing routine maintenance found problems with the two reservoirs.

“Hairline cracks and some corrosion on rebar inside of the tanks, on the lids, the tops in particular, were noted during the inspection,” Don Henry, Public Works and Utilities assistant director, said.

In 2019, the city consulted with an expert for a structural analysis.

“The integrity of the tanks are still solid. They’re in general good condition,” Henry said.

However, the city still had concerns about the parking above the tanks and continued to monitor the situation. The lots closed when city staff determined supporting the weight of vehicles was no longer feasible.

One of the lots partially closed in August 2022. In January, both lots were completely blocked off. The decision left the Mid-America All-Indian Museum with 400 fewer parking spots. There is still parking in the small lot in front of the museum.

Remove the tanks or remove the parking lots?

The city said removing the storage tanks would cost about $325 million because the pump station would also have to be moved. Henry said the five tanks at the Hess Pump Station hold a total of 35.1 million gallons of water. Plus, the station will still be necessary when the new Northwest Water Facility begins operation in late 2024.

On Tuesday, Henry presented the city council with a cheaper option:

  • Remove the parking lots and the dirt under the lots
  • Install membrane material to seal the lids
  • Replace the soil and plant grass

He told the council it would cost $4.3 million, and the 2024-2033 Capital Improvement Program has the funding. The council agreed with the plan, voting unanimously in favor of the project.

Megan Lovely, Wichita communications manager, said the work has no start date, but it is slated for construction in 2024. Plus, the project has to take place as other work is also being done at Hess, such as valve replacements and linking it to the new water treatment plant.

Mid-America All-Indian Museum parking

During Tuesday’s meeting, the city council also approved money to evaluate parking for the Mid-America All-Indian Museum.

“We are evaluating the feasibility of expanding the Exploration Place parking lot to the west and working on possible improvements to the museum east entrance, to accommodate the same,” Lovely said.

Children sled on the hill near the Mid-America All-Indian Museum, Feb. 17, 2022. (KSN Photo)

Other suggestions since January have included a shuttle service to the museum or turning the museum’s hill into a parking lot. The hill is a popular spot for sledding.

The Board of the Mid-America All-Indian Museum has spoken in favor of removing the hill, saying it is the best solution to the parking challenge.

The city has a website for tracking updates on the parking lot changes. The website also includes a section for residents to share their thoughts. Click here to learn more.