Youngmeyer Ranch building serves researchers, withstands prairie environment


A field biologist, Krista Ward frequently rises early for her work and drives long distances to get to her outdoor sampling sites. For the past two years, she has conducted research at the privately-owned Youngmeyer Ranch in Elk County, about an hour from Wichita. 

Recently, Ward’s experiences there became much more comfortable when the newly dedicated research facility was completed. 

"The building at Youngmeyer Ranch provides the opportunity to make our research safe, time effective and cost efficient," Ward said. "The building includes a storm shelter, restrooms, changing areas, and sleeping spaces which provides both safety and privacy for all researchers and volunteers included on a research project at this site." 

The privately funded, 3,400 square-foot building also includes a large garage and storage space where researchers can park vehicles and stow equipment. This feature permits a considerable amount of time and effort to be redirected to research work.  

"The large garage will allow for the storage of aquatic sampling equipment such as fyke nets and seines and for ATVs, all of which we have had to transport back and forth every day previously," Ward said. "Since housing is provided in the building, researchers are enabled to stay multiple days in a row at the field site without driving back and forth, and that significantly cuts down the number of hours spent on commuting."  

The facility not only accommodates multiple researchers, but also allows for applied learning and teaching. 

“A major feature of the new building is the research lab with multiple workstations," Andrew Hippisley, dean, Fairmount College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, said. "This gives our faculty and our students new and deeper paths to access the massive research and applied learning potential of the ranch’s diverse ecosystem, providing the space and resources to analyze and reflect on their discoveries.”  

Youngmeyer Ranch is owned by the Youngmeyer Trust, which has granted Wichita State research and educational access to the property. The research facility cost approximately $2 million to build and was paid for entirely by donors. Hutton designed and constructed the building.  

The low-profile facility blends in well with the ranch’s landscape, with two sides surrounded by berms. Its location far inside the ranch makes it difficult to see from the township road and from various parts of the property.  

Making the building ecologically friendly and weather durable was a priority in its construction, Emily Taylor, lead architect, said.  

“The field station is completely off-grid," Taylor said. “Primary power for the building is generated by an array of 30 solar panels on the roof and is stored in 4 Tesla batteries. All plumbing is served by well water, with 2,000 gallons of storage for general use and 450 gallons for the sprinkler system. 

"The building’s form, appearance, and interior details are inspired by the stratified stone underneath the Flint Hills and other natural marvels," Taylor said. “The finish materials are all natural tones, organized in patterns to evoke layers of sediment, heads of grain, or even the night sky, such as in the bedrooms.” 

The entire structure is made of cast-in-place concrete and the exterior cladding is all stone or concrete. Four varieties of limestone are used, Taylor said, harvested from Kansas quarries and fabricated in Herington. The Prairie Shell variety includes many fossils providing a glimpse of prehistoric eras and material for informal scavenger hunts.  

Mike Lamb, vice president of Wichita State's Foundation, is grateful for Earl Youngmeyer’s foresight to preserve the ranch in a conservation easement and to the donors who made the building possible.   

“The gift of access to the 4,600-acre Youngmeyer Ranch for use as a research station has been transformational for WSU students and faculty,” Lamb said.