Wilson School rehab work continues

Monday, August 17, 2020

The costs, complexity and extent of the project possibly coloring it as low priority is not the case regarding the Cherokee Wilson School building and the ongoing renovation of the historic structure into an downtown multiple apartment dwelling.

The Cherokee City Council previouysly approved an agreement for private development with Wilson School Apartments, LLC and developer Shawn Foutch of JMAE, LLC of Johnston, Iowa. This agreement includes $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.

In a telephone conversation Thursday, Foutsch said the work is progressing on schedule with many steps still to be taken regarding federal and state grants and tax incentives for such historic renovation projects.

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 has began operations 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.

Foutch reports that a construction crew has cleaned up and completed initial demolition of damaged and unneeded internal materials and removal of over 100 tons of debris.

With the Cherokee School District walking away from it several years ago, the three-story building sat vacant for many years and age, weather and lack of maintenance led to damage to both interior and exterior portions of the structure. New sidewalks will soon be poured for the property as part of the agreement with the City, according to Foutsch.

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 Foutsch 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 have our historic architectural specialist in there (Wilson building) and our architects will soon be doing design work,” explained Foutch last week. “I expect initial construction to start this fall. Final construction won’t be able to start until all the financing is in place, which is probably fall 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 as it appears to be doing.. However, Foutsch said last week it is hoped construction can be completed by the fall of 2021 with apartments ready for rent and residents moving in by Spring 2022.

“There are a lot of hoops to jump through as we go along but we’re getting there,” said Foutsch.

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