February 17, 2014


A Carroll organization could benefit from an Iowa House bill that would funnel roughly $20 million into renovation of abandoned buildings in local communities, such as closed schools and hospitals, announced Rep. Daniel Muhlbauer, D-Manilla, at a legislative forum in Breda Saturday morning.

Muhlbauer and Sen. Mark Segebart, R-Vail, discussed deterioration of roads and legislative committee actions as well as responding to audience questions at the Breda Shelter House. About 30 people attended.

New Hope Village could be eligible to receive some of the proposed renovation funds, said Muhlbauer, who serves in the rural caucus. Des Moines Area Community College would also participate in the project, but no other details are currently available, he added.

"The program would clean up abandoned sites and get them back into the tax base," said Muhlbauer. "A lot of them are just sitting, and they need torn down or rebuilt into something."

Muhlbauer said these buildings, schools in particular, are often located in "prime areas" of town, with utilities already tied into the property. But it can be very expensive for cities to take on the challenge of renovating or demolishing the old buildings, especially if they contain large amounts of asbestos, he said.

These costs prevent new business development on the sites or conversions of the buildings into housing or community centers.

"They're an eyesore," he said. "We don't want them to be an eyesore forever."

Gov. Terry Branstad also supports the initiative and referenced it in his condition of the state address, making Muhlbauer certain the bill will pass.

He cited Manning and Denison as cities that could benefit from the program. Manning will soon have an empty hospital building with which to contend, and Denison already does, he said.

Declining enrollment trends have also forced many school districts in the region to close buildings, with varied results.

Coon Rapids-Bayard sold its former elementary building last year. The Southern Calhoun and Rockwell City-Lytton boards received two bids for the Lohrville building, which has been empty for more than a year, but after hearing concerns and objections from residents, board members decided in September to work with the City of Lohrville to demolish it. The East Greene board has begun the demolition process for its building in Rippey, which should be completed by this summer.

The IKM-Manning district is currently debating whether to close one of its buildings. Last week, a pair of consultants recommended that the school board close the middle-school building, located in Muhlbauer's hometown of Manilla.

However, the school board has yet to take action, making it "far too premature" to speculate on whether one of the district's communities could benefit from the proposed renovation program in the future, said Muhlbauer.

The next forum will be at 10 a.m. Saturday, March 1, at DMACC.