(The Center Square) – The Iowa Department of Natural Resources (DNR) announced on July 1 it awarded $400,000 in reimbursement grants to nine rural Iowa communities with 5,000 or fewer residents.
A bill that would have increased the eligibility list to include communities of 5,001 to 7,500 residents, SF 443, and increased the program’s budget failed passage in the Iowa Legislature this session.
The annual DNR Derelict Building Grant Program awards fund the renovation or deconstruction of abandoned, derelict buildings, removal of asbestos, and recycling or reusing construction and demolition materials. The projects improve community appearance, minimize costs and remove environmental hazards. The funding requires cash matches.
DNR Land Quality Bureau Senior Environmental Specialist Reid Bermel told The Center Square that the funding for the program comes from the Salt Waste Alternatives Program. The department received 18 applications for a total request of $848,911.00 in the February 2021 round of funding, which allots no more than $400,000, according to minutes from the May 18 Environmental Protection Commission Meeting.
One of the requirements for applicants is to secure three bids for each item they request financial assistance with or explain to the DNR why they could not secure those bids, and some of the applicants that the DNR turned down failed to meet that criterion, he said.
Additional criteria include the fact that the building cannot be on the National Historic Register and that it must be a former commercial or public building that has been abandoned for at least six months. Only city governments can apply, and they must own or “be in the process of owning” the building, according to the DNR.
“Since the establishment of the program in 2011 through 2021, the program has assisted 118 communities with 165 projects, diverting over 72,849 tons of materials and saved over $2.7 million in landfill disposal costs,” the Iowa DNR said on its website.
Cities that received funding this year include Fremont in Mahaska County, which received $66,000 to abate asbestos and deconstruct an old commercial building to redevelop the space into a new commercial building. Rake, in Winnebago County, received $69,000 for the deconstruction of an old school building, making space for a multi-use recreational path. A $73,450 grant for Wapello, in Louisa County, will fund asbestos inspection, asbestos abatement, and deconstruction of the existing roof of an old retail store. The renovated structure will be used for retail/commercial space with living options on the second floor. Mapleton ($31,250), Millersburg ($15,000), Waukon ($10,000), Anita ($8,500) and Farragut ($5,100) received the remaining grants.
The largest DNR grant, $121,700, was awarded to the city of Wall Lake, which has a population of about 800, for asbestos abatement, renovation, and deconstruction of the former East Sac County Community School District elementary school. The school district is consolidating its buildings, the Messenger News reported.
City Clerk Chris Rodman told The Center Square that the school closed permanently in 2020. It had drawn about 100 families daily into the town, supporting the community’s businesses. Rodman has applied for about $65,000 so far through other grants to transforming the site of the roughly 100-year-old building into a new attraction to the community.
“My whole goal is to turn this [closure] from a negative into a positive,” Rodman said.
The vision for the not yet fully funded project is to create a family recreation center that would include a fitness center equipped with showers and provide space for a physical therapy business and other businesses, along with condos, hotel rooms, or other residences. His dream is to also include an area where teenagers can hang out and play video games.
“It could be better than us having a school here,” he said.
Applications for the next funding round are due Feb. 25, 2022. More information about the grant program, application forms, and resources are available here.