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Statehouse reopens, BUT.....

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No money for historic sites in Quinn's new budget

By Rich Bauer, Managing Editor

A little more than a week before Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich was arrested on federal charges, the doors of the Vandalia Statehouse – and other state historic sites – were closed as a result of Blagojevich’s budget cuts. On Saturday, the Statehouse doors were reopened.

But just how long that’s the case is still up in the air, considering the budget address by new Gov. Pat Quinn on Wednesday.

The Illinois Historic Preservation Agency held a ceremony on Saturday to celebrate the reopening of the Vandalia Statehouse that morning.

The state was able to reopen the Statehouse because an anonymous local donor stepped forward with enough funds to pay six months of a salary for a full-time employee to assist Site Superintendent Mary Cole.

The state’s historic sites were closed at the end of November by Blagojevich’s budget cuts.

Prior to moving into the governor’s seat, before Blagojevich was impeached, Quinn stated publicly that he supported reopening all state historic sites.

But on Wednesday morning, less than an hour before Quinn’s budget address, IHPA spokesperson David Blanchette said there’s no money in the new budget for state historic sites.

And, he said, the IHPA is becoming part of the Department of Natural Resources.

“The historic sites are not in the proposed budget, but we have been meeting with the DNR this week, and we will continue to have meetings,” Blanchette said.

“This (the reopening of the historic sites) is one of the issues that’s on the table,” he said.

“We can’t promise anything at this point,” Blanchette said.

Because of the anonymous donation, the Vandalia Statehouse is one of only two state historic sites other than the Abraham Lincoln sites in Springfield that’s open.

The David Davis Mansion in Bloomington was scheduled for closure at the end of November, but the community and its historic foundation stepped forward quickly with sufficient funds to keep the mansion open.

Vandalia’s anonymous donor stepped forward a couple of months after Vandalia Mayor Rick Gottman began working with IHPA officials on possible ways to get the Statehouse reopened.

Despite the uncertainty of the Statehouse beyond the next full year, Blanchette said the IHPA is pleased that Illinois’ oldest state capitol is once again open to the public.

“As one of the premier Lincoln sites in Illinois, it’s gratifying that we are once again able to offer the Statehouse to the public.

“We deeply appreciate the support of the Vandalia community, and the anonymous donor, throughout this budget ordeal,” Blanchette said.

“We hope that people will take advantage of this, whether it’s visiting the Statehouse for the first time or making a return visit to the building that played an important role in Lincoln’s political career,” he said.

Among those attending Saturday’s ceremony was Jan Grimes, the IHPA director, and Gottman said it was an educational experience.

“I don’t think she knew just how much Lincoln history we have here in Vandalia and at the Statehouse,” Gottman told the city council on Monday night.

The Statehouse doors have only been open a few days, but Cole said the word has gotten out.

“It’s been great,” she said. “We’ve been busy.

“The schools have been calling about scheduling tours, and we’re going to be hosting Women’s Day Out (in April) for Vandalia Main Street, so we’ve been making plans for that,” Cole said.