Statehouse will reopen

Local residents who were excited about planning local activities at the Vandalia Statehouse to honor the 200th birthday of Abraham Lincoln in 2009 can now get busy making those plans.

Vandalia Mayor Rick Gottman learned late Thursday that the state had accepted an offer from the city that allows for the reopening of the Statehouse.

That offer includes a gift of up to about $35,000 from an anonymous donor. The money given by the individual to the Old Capitol Foundation is enough to pay the annual salary of a second employee at the Vandalia Statehouse.

“Our community is extremely grateful to the anonymous donor who has made it possible to reopen the Statehouse,” Gottman said on Thursday.

“I also want to personally thank Jan Grimes, director of the Illinois Historic Preservation Agency, with whom we worked diligently to make this happen,” Gottman said.

Grimes said, “Vandalia has shown true community spirit, taking a financial lemon and making lemonade.

“I commend Mayor Gottman and the Old Capitol Foundation for everything they have done to make this possible,” she said.

The Statehouse is among the state historic sites that were closed at the end of November through budget cuts implemented by Gov. Rod Blagojevich.

Though those sites were closed, the state kept site superintendents, including Mary Cole at the Vandalia Statehouse, on board for regular maintenance and to work on improvements to the state’s Web site that would provide a better product once the historic sites were reopened, according to Dave Blanchette of the IHPA.

Gottman said Tuesday morning that the state has a goal of opening the Vandalia Statehouse by the end of January, or at least prior to the celebration of Lincoln’s 200th birthday on Feb. 12.

The mayor said that state officials told him that they first have to offer the interpreter’s position to the person who held it prior to state layoffs at the end of November. If that person, who now works for the Illinois Department of Revenue, declines the job, the state will post the opening for 10 days and then begin interviewing candidates.

The IHPA and Vandalia Historical Society have traditionally held a program on Lincoln’s Birthday at the Statehouse.

The local celebration will be larger in 2009, with the city and its Vandalia Tourism Commission being involved in the planning.

Gottman and other city officials began working to raise local funds to reopen the Statehouse after learning that Bloomington was able to keep the David Davis Mansion open with local donations.

The Vandalia donation, however, is different from Bloomington’s in that “it’s a guarantee,” Gottman said. Bloomington has pledged the funds for the mansion, he said.

The funds given by the anonymous donor will be turned over the state on a month-by-month basis, Gottman said.

That’s because of the possibility that Blagojevich will be removed from the governor’s seat, due to allegations of corruption made in a federal complaint filed earlier this month.

Gottman said that Lt. Gov. Pat Quinn has said that he will reopen state historic sites if he is promoted to governor. If that happens, the state would no longer need funds from the city to operate the Vandalia Statehouse.

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