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Flashpoint

October 30, 2011

Flashpoint: State Archives needs permanent, safe home

The records in the Indiana State Archives are priceless, one-of-a-kind treasures not to be found anywhere else. The two state Constitutions, correspondence of Indiana’s governors dating back to the territorial period over 200 years ago, acts of the General Assembly, and the case files of the state Supreme Court are all in the State Archives. Also included are Vigo County naturalization records. They are your family heirlooms, the records that help define who you are and establish and protect your rights and freedoms. They should be guarded carefully.

But those records are in grave danger. State administrators 10 years ago decided “temporarily” to house the State Archives in a rickety and dangerously unsafe warehouse on Indianapolis’ eastside. This pole construction building, built in 1968 to accommodate a vinyl record factory, has perpetual problems with roof leaks after heavy rains and snows. Water has frequently dripped on the records — your priceless documents — soaking many of them.

Damaged records include state Supreme Court case files. Time and again, the hard-working and dedicated State Archives staff have rescued records after these leaks. Tornadoes in 2002 and 2008 narrowly missed striking that weak building, which cannot withstand high winds; nearby buildings of similar construction were destroyed. Must we risk having the Archives blown into Ohio?

On top of the threats from a leaking roof is the more insidious problem of terrible temperature and humidity controls where the records are kept. Humidity and temperatures in the stacks fluctuate dramatically causing the 200-year-old papers to get brittle and weaken. During months when the building’s heating system is on, the inside air becomes as dry as a desert and bakes the records. Days, weeks, months and years of this stress and strain take a toll on paper, photographs, and film. 

State leaders have ignored these threats to the records. Instead, in a temporary expedient, state administrators have recently earmarked over a million dollars to re-roof the old warehouse in which the State Archives is “temporarily” housed. But this does nothing to address the more insistent problem of the bad HVAC underneath the roof. Re-roofing that warehouse amounts to throwing good money after bad. It makes little sense to spend heavily on maintaining an inadequate structure. “Penny wise but pound foolish” is not good stewardship.

The Friends of the Indiana State Archives, a nonprofit statewide organization formed to support the Indiana State Archives in its important work, has for years called for better protection of the state’s precious records. We believe the best, most cost-effective solution for the citizens of Indiana is to house the State Archives in a purpose-built structure that will be safe, secure, and environmentally friendly to the records, and one that is inexpensive to maintain. 

The building should also be sited on the state government campus in downtown Indianapolis where citizens can safely visit, see, use, and experience the priceless documentary treasures that are theirs. The State Archives should be taken out of the expensive-to-maintain warehouse that is little better than your backyard toolshed and placed in a suitable building before a heavy rain, snow, or high wind destroys that unsafe shell and its irreplaceable contents.

As Indiana prepares to celebrate its bicentennial — 200 years of statehood — in 2016, it is fitting for the state to build a monument that will symbolize the past, present, and future of our state. We recommend that a new State Archives building to house the state’s treasures stand as that memorial to the achievements of the past and the triumphs of the future. A purpose-built and safe building for the State Archives to protect the records of executive, legislative, and judicial achievement will symbolize our determination to continue the American experiment in a government of laws and justice for all.

— Stephen E. Towne, president

Friends of the

Indiana State Archives

Indianapolis

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