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Sunday, May 1, 2016

Grand opening at remodeled SMS

Friday, January 15, 2010

(Photo by Randy M. Cauthron) Community Housing Initiatives President Doug LaBounty cuts the ribbon while other members associated with the cooperative team effort look on at the conclusion of Thursday's Spencer School Apartments grand opening ceremony.
The "familiar partners" who chose to collaborate in "unfamiliar territory" on Spencer's newest $5 million rehabilitation project officially celebrated their endeavor being completed "on time and on budget" Thursday in downtown Spencer. Those partners -- the Spencer school district, the Friends of the Auditorium group, Community Housing Initiatives (CHI) and the Spencer Area Activity Center (SAAC) -- gathered with other key participants and members of the general public to mark the grand opening of the Spencer School Apartments and the town's senior center in the former Spencer High School and Spencer Middle School building located at 104 E. Fourth St.

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.

Partners expound on project's history

(Photos by Randy M. Cauthron) Dick Hallett, (above), tours one of the new apartments during the open house held Thursday at the Spencer School Apartments. A total of 16 apartments on the second and third floors of the former Spencer Middle School are part of a $5 million renovation project that converted the vacant school building into affordable apartments and the new location for the Spencer senior center. (At Right Below) Doug LaBounty, president of Community Housing Initiatives, and Spencer Superintendent Greg Ebeling played integral roles in the development of the new housing location. (At Left Below) Vi Roskens and Pat Gross visit in the Spencer Area Activity Center's gathering area, awaiting the estimated 2,000 guests that would eventually make their way through the building during the open house.
"When we started looking at this project with the Friends, we all knew that this building had a long connection with Spencer. We hope that what we've accomplished with the rehabilitation here is provide the continuity of that connection for many years to come," Doug LaBounty, CHI's president, said. "While the school may have become functionally, increasingly obsolete as a school building over the years, we found a great alternative use for the building -- and feel that this building now belongs in this community and in the neighborhood."

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."

As Spencer's superintendent concluded his comments during the morning ceremony, he expressed excitement about the vital partnership within the Spencer School Apartments building.

"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.

Appreciating and looking forward

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 couldn't imagine the apartments at the time we walked through," she admitted, "but they've turned out really well. They're far above our expectations, actually."

"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."

As of midday Thursday, seven of the 16 apartments in the Spencer School Apartments building had been rented. To inquire about the availability of an apartment, contact Brittany Spieker, a Community Housing Initiatives leasing agent, at 262-5965 or (866) 279-9573.

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Sorry, but it cost $5 million to make that auditorium a few apartments? That money will NEVER be recovered. 5 million dollars could have bought I figure the medien house price in spencer is about $140,000. So if you subtract about $100k for tearing the school down...you could still buy 35 houses. Are there 35 apartments in that thing?

-- Posted by Molly Weasley on Fri, Jan 15, 2010, at 8:46 AM

What a great project. The apartments are beautiful and the entire concept is wonderful. If my parents were ready to move off the farm this is the type of place I would like them to be in. Imagine the draw a place like this will have to retired people who want to move to town, be independent but close to every amenity Spencer has to offer. They can live here, volunteer here, and spend their money here. What a great way to save a great building and bring life to our town.

-- Posted by Leah Cauthron on Fri, Jan 15, 2010, at 9:01 AM

Molly, if you'll read the article, there are other facilities contained in the building.

-- Posted by notinia on Fri, Jan 15, 2010, at 9:42 AM

The first apartment we visited yesterday was the former princiapl's office.........I said, "I've been here before!" The visit brought back great memories of SHS. A great accomplishment for Spencer!!

-- Posted by SHS GRad on Fri, Jan 15, 2010, at 11:22 AM

This is yet another example of money wasted. It was a building that would have cost 4 million to make it suitable for our children. Instead we spend seven million to build a new school and five to rehab the old. So instead of spending 4 we spend twelve. Makes a lot of sense. We could have used that eight million to create jobs. Lets build a new and bigger school for a community that has declining enrollment. Wake up people and elect some people with common sense to lead our community.

-- Posted by DOWNWITHDEMS on Fri, Jan 15, 2010, at 2:28 PM

Big deal, are they money generating facilities? Or just facilities for the apartments? I repeat...5 million? Good grief that's a lot of money.

-- Posted by Molly Weasley on Fri, Jan 15, 2010, at 4:55 PM

I would like to congratulate the Staff at CHI and all other parties involved with the restoration of Spencer Middle School project. I can't stress enough the great opportunities that this project has brought to the Spencer Community. Because of this project; jobs were generated, new housing has been created and a wonderful social center for Active Older Adults has been moved to a centrally located space.

As a former Spencer Resident, SHS graduate and Senior Center Volunteer I am ecstatic that the Middle School and Theater have not gone to waste, but rather the building's historical value has been brought to the forefront . This project proves that creative and community conscious alternative solutions are successful.

I look forward to learning of more future successes affiliated with this project. Nicely done!

-- Posted by Justmytwocents on Fri, Jan 15, 2010, at 5:26 PM

The facilities include the senior center and its resources, as well as preparing the auditorium for future use, if I understand correctly. You also asked if there were 35 apartments available. No, there are not, but there are 16, which, if you are correct about the median home price in the area, puts each at about $200,000 plus the cost of building the senior center. Not bad for brand new housing, with some pretty nice features if you ask me. Then again, if you look at the glass half full, you wouldn't have anything to complain about, now, would you?

-- Posted by notinia on Fri, Jan 15, 2010, at 5:55 PM

DOWNWITHDEMS.......What are you talking about creating jobs for? Don't you think people had to be paid to do all this work? The FIVE MILLION (and I don't know how Molly got this up to eight million) came from funds that could not been used for all the things we might imagine.

This building was costing Spencer schools around 100,000 a year just standing there. It would have cost 500,000 to tear it down and then you would have heard a lot more screaming than the few hot heads on here. This building would NEVER have made a decent middle school again! Putting that many students in a building such as it was a fire trap. Not to mention, where would all those students go to school during the 18 months of remodeling?

Molly, don't you read the articles you comment on? The auditorium is still in the East end of the building, duh! Please consider the problem with your idea of building separate homes instead of apartments..How would the elderly care for all the yard and the walks and the exterior aspects? Here the renters, who must qualify with low income, can reside inside a convenient building. Close to shopping, no need for a car, no need to go out for much at all. Close to the library and a very safe environment, unlike a separate house with all its mechanical items to monitor and maintain. I think you just react to every thing with out even considering any of the various elements. This money, partly was made available, because it was a restoration. Tear down the building and that money goes away,DUHHH!

Lastly, it takes five gallons of gas to replace one old brick with one new one in the form of a new building. The money saved and the assistance to our environment with restoration of an old building if incredible. The longevity of a new house will never equal this structure, which is expected to last one hundred more years, now that it has been saved. DOWNWITHDEMS needs to compare apples to apples and start thinking outside the Republican box.

-- Posted by A. View Point on Fri, Jan 15, 2010, at 6:57 PM

Spencer needs housing units! I was happy to hear more were coming in. Those who rent know it's hard to find a place. Especially one within your price range, or one that fits your life style. Last time I check though, apartments bring in money. You can ask my landlord if you're not sure on that.

-- Posted by _Samantha_ on Fri, Jan 15, 2010, at 7:13 PM

"Molly Weasley" and the others who complain each time money is spent in Spencer should consider the facts before they complain. (I mention "Molly" because she--or he--seems to be the first to jump in with uninformed comments every time a story about some big project appears in the Reporter.)

Let's begin by looking at this story. The school district had already promised to keep the building for five years in the hopes of finding a potential use. In the meantime, they were looking at some hefty repairs to keep the building from deteriorating: the flat roof was leaking, so they were going to put on a new roof (over $100,000), and both of the boilers were well beyond their life expectancy and might have had to be replaced at a cost of about $400,000 each so that the building could be heated to prevent further deterioration. The heating bill alone for those five years would have been another $100,000. So there is $1 million in additional expenses that the school district would have had to pay over the five years after the new Middle School was built.

If, at the end of five years, no one had stepped forward with a viable proposal for the building, what would have been its fate? (Remember, only one group did submit a proposal for this building, and that led to a partnership to share the expense of restoring and reusing the building.) It is doubtful that the city of Spencer would allow an abandoned school building to deteriorate in the middle of town, and on the edge of the business district, clearly visible from Grand Avenue.

It would have cost well over $1 million to demolish the old Spencer Middle School--not to mention the enormous costs to the environment of hauling all that rubble to the landfill. First of all, consider how much fuel would have used. Then think of the size of the mound of rubble that would be need to be buried, taking yet more farmland out of production. Who do these people think would have borne the costs of this demolition? The taxpayers of Spencer and the rural citizens of Clay County, that's who.

Secondly, let's look at the way in which the restoration was funded. Community Housing Initiatives (CHI) has a few projects each year. We were fortunate that they chose to take on this project. The money spent on it would have been spent somewhere, probably in central or eastern Iowa. Instead, it was spent in Spencer, bringing jobs to town for over a year. As for building new houses, that just wouldn't happen. This project took place because the building qualified for the National Register of Historic Places, making it eligible for historic tax credits. These tax credits are sold to private investors, providing the capital for the project. Because there would have been no historic tax credits available to build new houses, CHI would not have been able to obtain the financing to build them.

CHI is based in Spencer, so it is fitting that they now have a beautiful example of their work that they can show here in town. This is a project of which CHI and the city of Spencer can be proud. It will continue to contribute to the economy of Spencer, not just by providing affordable housing in the heart of Spencer, but by attracting people from out of town. People have already come from all over Iowa to see this project; they will continue to do so. We can expect to see downtown Spencer revitalized as more people live there. They will choose to walk instead of drive, shopping and dining out in our historic business district. The senior center should get a new lease on life, since it will now be easier for people to "drop in" as long as they are already downtown.

Many of these projects that have been making Spencer the envy of other Iowa cities have been funded by outside sources or by local money that is earmarked for them. The Grand Avenue Improvements are one of Spencer's Iowa Great Places projects (as is the Spencer Community Theatre project, which was funded mainly through private funds, with a bequest from the Dvergstens acting as a catalyst). Money for both of those projects has come from Vision Iowa CAT grants. That money was going to be spent somewhere, and why not Spencer! These projects not only bring money into the community, but they create jobs. Without them, further layoffs would be inevitable.

Finally, throwing money at companies such as R. R. Donnelly and Freudenburg/Simrit is not going to keep them in Spencer. We are lucky they stayed as long as they did. When you consider that there is no way to get to Spencer except by private vehicle (car, truck, or private jet), and that we are miles from the closest Interstate highway, it is unlikely that we will be able to attract many high-quality manufacturers or distributors. Freudenburg bought Verco Seals, then outsourced most of those jobs to China or Mexico. Donnelly was also partly a victim of outsourcing and partly to changes in the publishing industry. They were the nation's largest printing company, manufacturing books for many of the countries publishing companies. Many of those publishing companies have cut the number of physical books they publish drastically (in some cases, they have actually stopped publishing any new books), either because of the economic crisis or because readers are switching to electronic books. Some are turning to China for their printing needs in an effort to cut costs.

So please, all of you who complain every time something good happens in Spencer, familiarize yourselves with the facts before you set fingers to keyboard. And it might help if, instead of complaining, you would get involved and do something to make Spencer an even better place in which to live!

-- Posted by Smalltown Boy on Sat, Jan 16, 2010, at 5:36 AM

If you were worried about saving our environment we shouldn't have wasted our money and time building a new school. Where were you screaming then. Maybe you have not heard, but now we know that global warming is a sham. I suppose you are worried about deforestation too. We now have more trees in the US than when the Pilgrims landed.

Having attended school in that building, I would have felt good having my children attend there. Spencer needs more housing like we need another factory run out of town or new street lights. Last I read it was approximately $200,000/unit for low income housing. That is more than most people who pay their own way spend to house themselves. They put in a Senior Center too. They need to be taught the same lesson, if you can't afford it you can't have it. Some where along the way the people who went through the depression forgot that. They now have this mentality that they should have everything handed to them, wrong!

Tear the building down and put in a park. We need another one of those in town too. Maybe you have not noticed but people are not moving to Spencer because of our beautiful streets, our parks, our culture, our new school. In fact they are leaving Spencer since we made those things a priority. Long lasting real jobs, not these imaginary jobs our idiotic president talks about, are what we need to attract people to our community. Unfortunately the people who we have elected are to focused on people keeping their homes from having cracked paint, RV's in their yard, and other meaningless stuff. Bring in high paying jobs and people can afford to paint their homes.

Let private citizens invest in projects like this. If it were going to be profitable, they would. Don't spend my money on something that is just going to continually cost me money. The only thing government does well is waste money. Kick them all out Republican and Democrat. Hold them accountable for how they spend money and make decisions. Put them on trial at the end of their terms.

-- Posted by DOWNWITHDEMS on Sat, Jan 16, 2010, at 10:58 AM

DOWNWITHDEMS, you keep suggesting we create jobs. How, exactly, do you propose we do this? Do you have any suggestions or are you speaking of the same imaginary jobs Obama is?

-- Posted by notinia on Sat, Jan 16, 2010, at 12:47 PM

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