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East Lawrence’s Wishing Bench rises from the ashes, retains its new history

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Article updated to add video, 9:26 p.m. Thursday, Sept. 2:

East Lawrence’s beloved Wishing Bench was brought back to life Thursday.

A team from construction company Hamm Companies arrived this morning to start renovations to the bench under partnership with the East Lawrence Neighborhood Association.

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The Perry-based company has an office in East Lawrence just down the street from where the bench sits at Ninth and Delaware streets, and President Jeff Hamm volunteered the company’s services to repair it after it was seriously damaged by a fire on Aug. 15.

The construction team got to work replacing the bench’s deck boards that were damaged in the fire and adding metal support beams. The bench now has something else it didn’t have before, too: a wheelchair ramp to make it more accessible. 

But ELNA President Barry Shalinsky said that for the most part, it will still be the same bench. Aside from some cleaning, they aren’t going to erase what it went through. 

“We’re not making it look all new and shiny because that’s not what it is anymore,” Shalinsky said. “The fire is now part of its history.” 

The renovations aren’t the only way the Lawrence community has showed up for the Wishing Bench. Shalinsky said ELNA is grateful for the donations they’ve received, which currently amount to $850. Donations will go toward future upgrades to the Wishing Bench, and whatever doesn’t go toward the bench will be used for other public art projects in the neighborhood.

But having the bench physically restored means a lot, Shalinsky said. From being an “outdoor cathedral” of sorts to just a place for people to hang out, it holds an important place among the art that can be seen throughout East Lawrence. 

“This has been a really special place for a lot of people,” Shalinsky said. “It’s kind of part of our tradition of grassroots art here. It serves a lot of different purposes for people.”

Tom Fagan, division chief of administration for Lawrence-Douglas County Fire Medical, said the fire was still under investigation and he was unable to provide any new information Thursday.

Lucie Krisman / The Lawrence Times East Lawrence Neighborhood Association President Barry Shalinsky stands by as crews build a wheelchair ramp for the renovated Wishing Bench on Sept. 2, 2021.
Morgan Greeno / Contributed Crews from Hamm Companies work on the Wishing Bench in East Lawrence, Sept. 2, 2021.
Morgan Greeno / Contributed Crews from Hamm Companies work on the Wishing Bench in East Lawrence, Sept. 2, 2021.
Morgan Greeno / Contributed Crews from Hamm Companies work on the Wishing Bench in East Lawrence, Sept. 2, 2021.
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