Wilson School rehab work nears

Friday, January 3, 2020

The costs, complexity and extent of the project possibly categorizing it as low priority or procrastination, is not the case regarding the Cherokee Wilson School building and plans to renovate the historic structure into an downtown multiple apartment dwelling.

The Cherokee City Council has approved an amended agreement for private development with Wilson School Apartments, LLC and proposed developer Shawn Foutch of JMAE, LLC of Johnston, Iowa. This amendment includes an increase from $400,000 to $410,000 for total eligible blight remediation grants. Other grants are in the offing for Historical Rehabilitation and the Park Service’s Historical Registration designation.

In a painfully slow-moving process spanning more than three years to date, Foutch has laid out a proposal to rehabilitate the former Wilson School building into rental housing as a historic renovation project. He estimates the building can be rehabilitated into approximately 24 apartments ranging from studio to 3-bedroom units.

He estimates the project will cost approximately $3 million and will have a final residual value of $1.5 million under normal taxation as a commercial rental property.

Foutch is in the business of saving historic structures and turning them into residential properties. If the project comes to fruition, it would help alleviate a serious housing shortage in Cherokee, especially critical as Lopez Foods begins preparations to process meat products in the former shuttered Tyson Foods Plant and short-lived Iowa Food Group plant here, with plans to employ more than 400 at peak production in the future.

When contacted by the CT over the holidays, Foutch reported his company is currently scheduling a construction crew to “get in there” to clean up and do initial demolition of damaged and unneeded internal materials and removal of debris.

With the Cherokee School District walking away from it several years ago, the three-story building has sat vacant for many years and age, weather and lack of maintenance has led to damage to both interior and exterior portions of the structure.

The Cherokee Historical Preservation Commission (CHPC) led by Jim Adamson and Mick Samsel, fought to save the building after the City was left holding the bag and, faced with no other options, planned to raze the building at a huge cost (estimated $500,000 or more) to taxpayers.

The CHPC, working closely with Foutch who had done a similar project with the former South High School in Storm Lake, ultimately convinced the City to take a closer look at salvaging the building not only for its historic value, but as a future apartment complex to help alleviate the housing shortage in Cherokee.

The City and former City Administrator Sam Kooiker worked hard to save the downtown Lewis Hotel building as an apartment complex and for its historical value as a downtown landmark. New owners were found after years of neglect by the former owner who had inherited the structure.

“We will have our historic architectural specialist in there (Wilson building) this winter, and architects will be doing design work this spring,” explained Foutch last week. “I expect initial construction to start in late summer or early fall. Final construction won’t be able to start until all the financing is in place, which is probably spring of 2021.

“The completion dates listed in our revised and approved development agreement with the City are all still what we are planning.” Those dates represent a time table the developer must achieve as the extensive project progresses and the finances (grants) are realized.

The City’s agreement with the developer eyes a Year 2022 summer completion if everything falls into place on schedule.

Respond to this story

Posting a comment requires free registration: