By Mira Braneck
As the Central Park renovations come to a close, one question concerning the park remains: what to do about the Veterans’ Memorial Building.
The building, built in 1956, has stood empty for the past six years, after asbestos was discovered.
“The City was responsible for calling in the entity that removed the asbestos,” said Teresa McCall, Chair of the Veterans’ Memorial Commission. “At that time, they pretty much gutted the building … and left it in such disrepair that it wasn’t able to be inhabited … and provided no budget for the repair to get it back up and running.”
Before the asbestos was removed, the building was “a mini-community center of sorts,” McCall said. The main floor was rented out for functions and meetings, and the lower level was used by Mid-Iowa Community Action.
Now, there is controversy surrounding the building. While the Commission chose not to remove the building and is seeking funding to renovate the building, members feel that the town wants the building to be demolished and a different memorial constructed instead. The Commission views the absence of the building from the Central Park renovation plans as the City’s plan to eventually get rid of the building.
“This spring sometime, when they started the project for Central Park, it came to our attention that … the main drainage for the entire park was to be placed two feet above the finished floor of the building,” McCall said. “You don’t have to be an engineer to figure out if a lot of rain happens at once, it will flood the building. So we immediately approached the City about adjustments that could be made to protect the building. At that time, … it came to our attention that the Central Park plan also eliminated [Americans with Disabilities Act] accessibility, or any accessibility, to the building. Basically, they were surrounding the building with the park plan but not providing any access to the doors. It appeared that the plan was to eventually get rid of the building, even though the Commission hadn’t decided that.”
The Commission legally has to approve all of the decisions made about the building.
“While the City would like to make the decisions about the building, they can’t,” McCall said. “Legislatively, they can’t, legally, they can’t.”
The Commission is struggling to secure funding to renovate the building. Renovations would cost between one and 1.5 million dollars, according to the Commission’s estimates. When the Commission requested money in their budget to support the renovations, the City essentially gave them the operating budget that they usually receive.
“If we have the funds, we can start [the project],” McCall said. “I feel like there’s kind of a purposeful action of tying our hands in the sense of not providing a budget so we simply can’t do anything. It’s frustrating.”
The Commission has been raising funds on their own. They have some donors and a fund open with the Greater Poweshiek Community Foundation. There is also a tax levy that will be placed on the ballot in November 2017, which, if passed, would raise taxes 41 cents per 1,000 dollars. The petition to put the levy on the ballot had over 600 signatures, and needed only 67, according to McCall.
“If we could just get the City’s cooperation, and kind of a go-ahead, we could make these things happen,” McCall said. “We have a lot of people who have done pledges, but won’t put money into our account at the Greater Poweshiek Community Fund, because of the uncertainty of it.”
McCall said she is frustrated with the City’s inaction but acknowledges the Commission’s part in the current stalemate.
“It’s been at a stand-still for six years. … I don’t want to place blame on either side. I think it was a combination of things — the City’s inaction to provide a budget for it but also the commission, at that point … I think there was a failure on both sides to do anything with it,” McCall said. “I just feel like communication between the two parties is so important, and that’s what’s been lacking the last several years. … When we do communicate, we get fair and open communication. But it feels like we have to seek out the information instead of being informed.”
“I look at other projects the City has been behind, and the City has always been really good about helping other projects get off the ground and do some of these things that are required, the groundwork required to get things up and running. It just hasn’t happened that way with this,” McCall said. “So then I think it causes hard feelings among the veterans’ groups because they view it as the City is anti-veteran. … I know personally that each one of them is not — they’re not anti-veteran, that’s not what this is about. But I think that’s kind of the cloud that has been over this.”
The City of Grinnell could not be reached for comment.