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Work on Buffalo Bill center set to begin

By MIKE CORN

mcorn@dailynews.net

OAKLEY -- Construction will start as early as next week on a new 8,000-square-foot Buffalo Bill Cultural Center.

The center will be located adjacent to the larger-than-life Buffalo Bill bronze sculpture on the west side of Oakley.

Oakley and Logan County officials turned out Thursday for the groundbreaking.

Seed money -- amounting to nearly $500,000 on a 75-25 match -- comes from the Kansas Department of Transportation.

But as soon as word was received the grant had been approved, the Wild West Historical Foundation essentially doubled the size of the project.

"I think it will be roughly $900,000," said Raelene Keller, who has been the driving force behind the fundraising campaign.

First there was the 25-percent match that had to be raised, and then Keller set about on the task to raise the additional money.

She still is raising the final bit of money necessary to furnish the inside and develop a sound system.

"It will be a regional visitors center and an event center," Keller said.

It will be situated essentially right in the middle of the state's first historic byway, the Western Vistas Historic Byway that runs from Scott City to Oakley to the outskirts of Sharon Springs.

The center is expected to be completed by Oct. 31, just in time to serve as the focal point of the second annual Kansas Governor's Ringneck Classic, set for Nov. 15 this year in Oakley.

The center, Keller said, will have a series of rooms that will hold approximately 350 people.

She's delighted with how quickly everything has come together.

"It moved as fast as I do," she said.

And, Keller said, Oakley needs an events center.

"Some of the events go to Colby and takes the dollars with it," she said.

Once the cultural center is complete, Oakley will have someplace to conduct events.

"We are a regional visitors center," Keller said. "So we will promote the entire region."

A gift shop is planned as well.

The center will be owned and operated by the historical foundation, under long-term contract with Logan County. KDOT's grant went to Logan County, which also donated $50,000 to the project.

Keller's family has donated the land for the statue and the new visitors center.

The sculpture was put in place in 2004, and it's been Keller's vision to have a center since then.