October 21, 2021

New Indiana archives building planned at former prison site

The Indiana Archives and Records Administration logo

The Indiana Archives and Records Administration logo

INDIANAPOLIS (AP) — Indiana officials plan to build a $35 million state archives facility on Indianapolis' near-east side after a yearslong search for a new site to house the state's vast collection of historical records.

The 50,000-square-foot (4,645-square meter) building is slated for construction in a largely residential neighborhood about 2 miles (3.2 kilometers) east of downtown Indianapolis, according to a request for proposals issued by the state’s Department of Administration.

The site was formerly home to the Indiana Women’s Prison and until 2016 was used by the Indiana Department of Corrections as a reentry facility.

Indianapolis-based Ratio Architects has been selected to design the facility and the state is seeking a construction manager to oversee the building project, with construction starting as early as fall 2022.

The facility is intended to store, maintain, restore and display historic documents preserved by the state. Portions of the building will have critical environment requirements for some documents and items.

Indiana Archives and Records Administration executive director Chandler Lighty said the new facility will have improved archival capabilities for materials needing “rigorous preservation."

The state archives collection has executive, legislative and judicial records dating back to Indiana’s territorial government of the 1790s, including the 1816 and 1851 state constitutions. That collection has been stored in a warehouse on the east side of Indianapolis that lacks museum-quality climate controls since being moved from the basement of the state library building during a 2001 renovation.

The move was meant to be temporary, given that the location is not equipped for long-term preservation of some of the state’s most important documents. Inadequate storage conditions have likely taken 100 years off the life of the documents, archives officials said.

The new project is coming to fruition six years after former Republican Gov. Mike Pence, who later served as vice president, failed to finance the proposal as part of the state’s bicentennial celebration.

Pence's contested plan to pay for construction by leasing out state-owned cellphone towers through a public-private partnership was scrapped by Republican Gov. Eric Holcomb, Pence’s successor, shortly after taking office in 2017.

Selecting a site for the new archives building has also been contentious.

In 2015, the state said it had chosen a state-owned site on the Central Canal downtown for a $25 million archives building. The location beat out three others evaluated by the state, but the canal site drew opposition from an Indianapolis citizens group, Canal Park Advocates, that said the space should be preserved for a public waterfront park.

The Senate Finance Committee and legislators during the 2015 legislative session responded by adopting language in the budget bill that prohibited use of the site for the archives building. Subsequently, plans were announced for a potential site on the IUPUI campus, but that site was also abandoned.

State archivists and researchers have since spent years advocating for the new facility, which state legislators financed in the new state budget adopted in April, thanks to a surplus of federal coronavirus relief money.

It's part of a historic building spree soon to begin in Indiana after more than $1 billion was set aside for previously-shelved construction projects, including a new law enforcement training facility, a remodeled prison and a state fairgrounds pavilion.

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Casey Smith is a corps member for the Associated Press/Report for America Statehouse News Initiative. Report for America is a nonprofit national service program that places journalists in local newsrooms to report on undercovered issues.

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