THE ISSUE: What to do with vacant high school building in Hamburg.
LOCAL IMPACT: Citizen group seeks to maintain local control of the former high school building in Hamburg, promising to raise money and make the space into a community center.
At a special session of the Hamburg City Council on Oct. 24, the Hamburg Iowa Betterment Association (HIBA; formerly, the Hamburg Iowa Community Association) met with council members to request that they reconsider their previous decision not to accept the offer from the Hamburg school board to buy the vacant high school building for one dollar.
The community group presented the council with a letter explaining their belief that the benefit of the city purchasing the school property would be that the city could be awarded grants for the building's refurbishment and upkeep more easily than could the community association on its own.
HIBA would then manage the building's upkeep for two years at an estimated cost of $90,000, and start a community center there.
The school board is willing to sell the property to the city for one dollar, and is checking into the legality of such a move, as it already has an offer on the table from an interested businessman.
That offer is $30,000—$25,000 for the building (the asking price), and $5,000 for the refrigeration units in the kitchen.
The man who has offered to buy the building is interested in opening it up for startup businesses, including a dinner theater in the auditorium and a mushroom farm. He also intends to live in the building.
HIBA is working on acquiring 501(c)3 non-profit status. But time is critical, as the school board must decide by Nov. 30 whether to accept the offer for the building.
Ron Brumley of HIBA said there are 21 people in the association now, and it is growing.
To date, the group has pledges totaling just over $10,000 toward the purchase and upkeep of the building. Their goal is to raise $200,000 by the Nov. 30 deadline.
Mayor Cathy Crain and council members voiced concerns about the city pursuing grants for the high school's upkeep and refurbishment.
Grants are generally a 50-50 arrangement and are quite costly, said Crain.
Councilman Kent Benefiel pointed out that because the city's financial situation is sound—it is not in the red—it really doesn't need grants.
Benefiel reminded those at the meeting that he was in favor of the city buying the school building when it was offered two years ago.
But at that time there were major problems with the roof leaking, and the library was flooded.
The council voted not to purchase the building.
The roof has since been repaired and has a new foam coating.
Benefiel and Crain agreed that HIBA is not yet “shovel-ready” with financing for the project, and that it will take too long for them to garner the 501(c)3 status needed to apply for grants. “We can't bet on 'what ifs,'” said Crain, though she encouraged the group to continue to pursue their goal of acquiring the building for a community center.
Mayor Crain pointed out that there would also need to be an emergency fund in place should the city buy the building, and that would mean raising taxes by as much as eight or nine percent, which she adamantly opposes.
HIBA members are concerned that a buyer's plans to bring businesses into the building might fail to come to fruition, and he or she would simply walk away, leaving the building again vacant and perhaps in worse shape than before.
They encouraged the council to take a risk and dream big. Dr. Fred Ashler suggested the city take leadership in the situation. “I've seen many things slide down the tube for 50 years,” Ashler said.
Mayor Crain suggested that three options faced the council: vote to buy the property from the school district for one dollar; continue the discussion and vote on the matter once more; or reaffirm their previous rejection of the offer.
As of Oct. 30, the council had decided to stick with their rejection of the one-dollar deal.