October 11, 2013

Templeton's Community Center, a Coon Rapids-area trails system and Jefferson's historic downtown gardens have received a total of $670,000 in state grants through the Vision Iowa Board.

About two-thirds of the $1.1 million total funding in this Vision Iowa financing cycle will go to projects within 30 miles of Carroll. The Vision Iowa board approved the funding Wednesday and announced the awards Thursday.

Whiterock Conservancy pulled the largest award - $400,000 - for its Iowa Back-country Trail Attraction.

The Coon Rapids-based non-profit land trust, has embarked on a $4.2 million back-country, 35-mile trails project featuring a rolling layout for mountain bikes.

Conrad Kramer, executive director of Whiterock, said the system would be a major tourism draw for the region.

"It's going to be the best mountain-bike trail anywhere around," Kramer said.

Kramer hopes the project can start in the fall of 2014, giving the trails time to settle over the winter, with an opening in the spring of 2015. The project will retrofit 12 miles of existing trail and add another 23 miles for a mixed-used system - 35 miles for hiking; 28 miles for mountain biking; and 19 miles for horseback riding.

Vision Iowa awarded $200,000 in state money to the $1.7 million Templeton Community Center.

The community center, the former Sacred Heart Catholic School owned by the city and well into the construction process, surpassed the $1.2 million mark in private donations weeks ago, said Templeton Mayor Ken Behrens.

"We intend for it to be state-of-the-art," Behrens. "In Templeton, we are very forward-thinking."

A signature feature of the community center will be a banquet hall. Restrooms will be expanded and modernized and the kitchen updated. The facility is now asbestos-free following a $62,000 removal project.

The Templeton Community Center is expected to have a 700-person capacity making it one of the larger venues in the Carroll area. Supporters expect it to draw events from Audubon County as well.

Sacred Heart School was built in 1964. The Sioux City Diocese closed it in 2003 as part of a consolidation of Carroll-area Catholic schools to the Kuemper Catholic School System. The City of Templeton owns the school property after purchasing it for $1. Sacred Heart Parish has special-use considerations under the transfer agreement.

Behrens said Templeton hopes to have the community center open by June 1.

Rounding out the area trifecta of awards is a $70,000 grant to the Thomas Jefferson Gardens of Greene County in Jefferson - a blend of gardens showcasing Iowa's history and paying homage to Thomas Jefferson. Total cost for the project, located southeast of the courthouse, is $369,000.

Tom Polking, a Jefferson attorney who portrays the nation's third president in one-man shows and chairs the Thomas Foundation of Greene County, said the gardens are well into development.

A statue of Jefferson will join a pavilion in the gardens off the town square. The project will include plantings brought from Thomas Jefferson's iconic home, Monticello, in Virginia. Polking said there will be five separate gardens with the project: an herb garden and fruit garden with Monticello influences; a farmer's garden; a Lewis and Clark prairie grass area; and a children's garden.

Computerized irrigation is expected to begin this fall with planting in the spring and availability to the public.

Also this week, Vision Iowa announced a $357,000 grant for a community center along the shores of Five Island Lake in Emmetsburg and a $78,000 grant for an amphitheater project in Waverly.

The Vision Iowa Program provides financial incentives to communities for the construction of recreational, cultural, educational or entertainment facilities that enhance the quality of life in Iowa. Currently, 378 Community Attraction and Tourism awards have been granted by the board, totaling $142 million.