Since March, CHI has restored the building's facade and converted its second and third floors into 16 one- and two-bedroom rental units. The former school building also hosts the SAAC on its first floor now. The building's historic auditorium area, meanwhile, is slated to be restored in the future.
Special guests were invited to attend Thursday's grand opening ceremony in the community room on the building's second floor. As Mary Jean Montgomery, CHI's board chairperson, welcomed those who'd gathered, she asked for a show of hands from former high school and middle school students who'd attended classes in the building years ago. Several people who'd worked on the project were among those who responded with raised hands. Former administrators and teachers who served in the building, such as Spencer resident Joe Graff, were also recognized.
The key players who helped turn a collaborative vision of preserving the 1912 school building, and adapting it for reuse, also acknowledged the "win-win" situation this "new" building provides the city and area residents who will utilize it now.
As LaBounty recognized key partners in the project, he mentioned Cannon Moss Brygger & Associates (CMBA) and Henkel Construction, as well as the "almost daily challenges" and surprises associated with it.
"I think you'll agree by walking through here today that they both did an excellent job. And, we appreciate all the hard work that you did on this project," he said.
As LaBounty then focused on the costs associated with tackling a project such as this one, he noted demolition costs would have more than likely been borne by the building's owner, the local school district. In combination with relocating Spencer's senior center onto the building's first floor, LaBounty deemed the project a "pretty cost-effective use of public and private resources." He also mentioned that Midwest Housing Equity Group, which was represented by Dan Garrett, provided a key part in the financing of this project. The nonprofit corporation, a tax credit syndicator, raises capital to invest in affordable housing throughout the states of Iowa, Kansas, Nebraska and Oklahoma.
"As I look at this today, I see a great project. You have a jewel. But, you also have a jewel in Community Housing Initiatives because of what they bring," Garrett told those gathered. "The tax credit industry was about a $7 billion industry that went down to $2 billion a year. Most of that money was not going to the Midwest at all. They started calling us the 'fly over states.' And, in essence, you had to be somebody who brought a strong project to the table. Today when I bring a Community Housing Initiatives project to the table with my investors, there's never a discussion about it. That should tell you exactly what these guys do."
Superintendent Greg Ebeling, who represented the local school district, another critical partner in the collaborative undertaking, described the impressive "can-do" attitude of the project's partners. As he recalled past school board discussions, he remembered a request for proposals for the building being issued -- and one proposal being received. It came from Sheriffa Jones, Martin Arthur, Julie Schmidt and Ann Holck, now referred to as the Friends of the Auditorium group.
"I want to make real clear how important the Community Housing Initiatives connection with the Friends of the Auditorium was. That group, because they had that conversation to partner and put a proposal in front of the school board, set something in motion that would have never happened otherwise," Ebeling said. " ... We can't underestimate the power of that story because, again, it reflects back to me that attitude I see within the Spencer community of people working together, doing things together and making a very positive impact in their community. People finding ways to get things done seems to be a common theme around Spencer."
"I'm very excited about having a senior activity center on the first floor," Ebeling added. "And, as we continue working with them, it will be a great thing for our community in the future."
Overcome with emotions, Tom Manley, a SAAC board member, then addressed the crowd.
"All we want to say is thanks," Manley said as tears streamed down his face. Manley also thanked those volunteers who helped with the recent senior center move to the building's first floor, and invited people to visit the SAAC in its new location.
After the project's partners participated in a ribbon cutting, CHI staff offered tours of the building's apartments and senior center representatives welcomed people to view their new setting.
Bev and Harold Kramme were among those who toured the building's apartments. After walking through a second floor apartment, Bev Kramme stepped into the carpeted hallway, turned to her husband and exclaimed, "They're beautiful. They're big. They're awesome."
Kramme, who was among CHI's board members invited to the Thursday morning grand opening ceremony, is also a six-year CHI apartment tenant.
"It's nice and we like it," she said of their residence in Hartley. "But, this is definitely an upgrade from what those were."
Anna Harmon, who served as CMBA's assistant project manager for the rehabilitation project since studies were first done on the building in 2007, also expressed excitement at being able to finally see the building becoming inhabited.
"We've had a lot of success here," Gary Schmit of Henkel Construction added. "The building just turned out beautiful, especially when you look at how it looked nine months ago when we started. It's a complete transformation and a wonderful thing for the community of Spencer. We are proud to be a part of the whole experience."
On behalf of the Friends of the Auditorium group, which initiated the collaborative endeavor with their lone proposal submitted to Spencer school board members, Sheriffa Jones also expressed her delight with the finished project.
"Community Housing Initiatives, who we pulled in, has just done a stellar job with this. And one piece, as Doug had mentioned, is the tax credits. In order for tax credits or some of the other financing to come through, the building needs to be listed on the National Register, which is a part that I played with doing the research and writing the National Register nomination, which ended up being about a 40-page document," Jones said. "About two years after that started, I have recently submitted the final document to the State Historic Preservation office. They've received that and it's now onto the National Park Service, which has about a 45-day review period. So, we should find out by the middle to end of February that it's been listed. That will be another day of celebration."
With the building's former academic wing currently completed, the Friends of the Auditorium group is now gearing up to address the next piece of the collaborative venture -- the building's historic auditorium.
"At this point, we are in the final stages of completing a predesign study," Jones said. "Once we receive that, we'll be meeting with the other partners to determine the next step."