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Holy City beset by series of problems

The Holy City of the Wichitas needs the public's help with a series of issues that have plagued the 82-year-old attraction for months.

The historic site has suffered a run of bad luck this year, dating back to the final performance of the annual Easter pageant. It began when nearly half of the outlets needed to power lights for the production failed to properly work. It continued when the water the Holy City used became contaminated with E. coli. It reached its peak more than a month ago with a waterline blockage that has since cut off all water to the attraction. Those issues have culminated with a drop in attendance and donations that has led to revenue being cut in half over the usually busy summer months.

Still trying to recover from damages to the control center from storms in 2016, the Holy City has reached out to the public to raise awareness and funds to address the issues. Skip Hamill, president of the board of directors, said, despite fears, the Holy City is not closing and has no plans to close in the future. But to avoid that fate, it's going to need help.

"At this time, (the threat of closure) is not very serious," Hamill said. "We're telling people who are trying to reserve the Holy City for weddings, or those who have put money down, not to worry about it. We're doing whatever it's going to take to keep the facility open. That's one of the reasons we're reaching out to the community."

The most pressing issue is returning running water to the Holy City. Once public restrooms are available, more people should start returning to the site, which will lead to increases in donations and spending at the gift shop. Hamill has reached out to a professional plumber from Anadarko, Dewayne McGaha, who, as part of his ministry, offers free work for low income individuals and non-profit organizations. 

Supplied by a spring

McGaha and his brother David will tackle the problem as early as this week, but they're going to have their work cut out for them. The Holy City's water supply is what Hamill calls an "engineering marvel." It's supplied by a spring on the grounds of the Wichita Mountains Wildlife Refuge and is gravity fed into a cleanout area by 7,000 feet of pipe. From there, it runs another 750 feet into a pair of tanks from which the Holy City facilities pull the water. Somewhere within that 750 feet between the cleanout area and the tanks is a blockage or some sort of issue that's preventing the free flow of water.

"There was a period of time when our assistant caretaker flushed the lines and reflushed them and we started getting water back into our tanks," Hamill said. "That was about 3 weeks ago. Everything was going fantastic, but that only lasted for a period of about six or seven days. The volume started going down and we haven't been able to get water in that tanks since."

The earliest McGaha will be able to begin work will be Thursday, Hamill said. From there, the timetable for completion will depend on how quickly he can discover the issue and the extent of work that will be required to fix it. Hamill has already resigned himself to the idea replacing the 750 feet of line from the cleanout area to the tanks, which could cost as much as $1,500. 

"I've been getting prices on 3-inch waterline," he said. "We have the old metal waterline, which I'm sure will have to be replaced. There's no way that stuff is going to be up to code. Thankfully, we already have the money pledged for that."

E. coli in water

Once water service is returned to the Holy City, the board of directors will still have to make a decision on cleansing the water of E. coli. Before the attraction lost its water source, people could still use the public toilets and were able to flush, but the faucets were shut off and no drinking water was available. Bottles of hand sanitizer were placed in the bathrooms as replacements for the faucets. It worked on a temporary basis, but many people use the Holy City Chapel and grounds for their weddings, renewal of vows and reunions. They need water  clean water  which will come at a price.

"A lot of people depend on having water at the reception hall," Hamill said. "So getting the water back on is in play, but then we have to decide if we want to move forward with purifying the water."

Hamill has only done preliminary research into a purification solution. He was quoted about $2,500 per site to set up a solar chlorination system that would ensure the water would be safe to wash with and consume without fear of infection. The total price to purify all water sites at the Holy City would be around $10,000 as part of the initial quote. But Hamill admits it's only one quote and it's difficult to find more.

"I've been looking and there's just no one local who handles the solar chlorination that we need to do here," he said. "They either have to outsource to Texas or Ohio or somewhere like that to get that work done here. I feel like I could possibly get it cheaper, but I don't know."

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