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Oops! Leaky Roof Threatens State's Most Treasured Historical Documents

Rainy days aren't good news at the Indiana state archives.

The repository for some of the state's most treasured documents is plagued by a leaky roof that has resulted in parts of the collection getting wet at least three times this year.

Officials say they're worried about protecting the archives, which include the state constitution, John Dillinger's prison records and the 1964 contract between the Indiana State Fair Board and the Beatles. But the state budget approved by lawmakers in an overtime session this year did not include money for repairs to the building.

The Department of Administration had included $2.4 million for that purpose in its budget, but Gov. Mitch Daniels nixed the plan.

"In December 2008, we got a revenue forecast that showed we had a three-quarters-of-a-billion-dollar hole in our budget," Daniels spokeswoman Jane Jankowski told The Indianapolis Star. "Beginning right then and there, we had to make a lot of decisions about what we could and couldn't spend."

Efforts to allocate money for an architectural study of a new building to house the archives also failed.

"I didn't get the job done in making clear how precarious this situation is," said Rep. Matt Pierce, D-Bloomington, who introduced a bill allocating $500,000 for the study. "Unfortunately it got put into the category: 'It'd be nice, but it's not a necessity."'

The archives are valuable resources for family genealogists, historians and real estate developers, who sometimes use old aerial photographs to confirm a property's past uses.

A 2007 report by the Council of State Archivists shows Indiana's $500,000 annual budget for archives is among the nation's lowest. Only 12 states have smaller staff than Indiana, which has eight archivists. Washington state has a $10 million budget.

Washington archivist Jerry Handfield, who served as Indiana's archivist in the 1990s, said Indiana's building is "an accident waiting to happen."

The building was never intended to be a permanent location. The archives moved to the former repository for eight-track tapes in 2001 when the basement of the state library was being remodeled.

The latest leak doused 30 boxes of House and Senate bills from the 1960s. The documents were dried out and have been returned to their shelves.

Pierce said leaks aren't the only worry. Several tornadoes have touched down near the building in recent years.

"We're at a point now where we're one day closer to a disaster," he said.