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For Sale: The Iowa Board of Regents is offering the City of Vinton the whole IBSSS campus for $1

On Monday, the Vinton City Council will discuss a startling and very incredibly unusual offer: It can buy the entire Iowa Braille School campus – including the track, gym, soccer field, all of the buildings, Woody's Cave (the indoor playground designed for visually impaired children) and the land which includes a functioning geothermal heating/cooling system – for just $1.

However, the property comes with two extremely expensive caveats.

First, while the campus brings in nearly $600,000 in lease income – $580,212 of it from NCCC/AmeriCorps – it also has annual expenditures of $967,425, leaving a deficit of $377,783.

Second: According to the Regents' report, the buildings need approximately $1.5 million worth of “deferred maintenance” covering 14 items from asbestos abatement and floor tile replacement in the bowling alley, roof replacement on two of the smaller buildings, new windows and waterproofing the boiler room.

Taking on the more than $300,000 annual expense would represent about 8 percent of the city's annual budget, explains Vinton City Manager Chris Ward. Also, with the buildings valued at $50 million or more, it would be cost prohibitive for virtually any individual or business to pay the tax bill on such property, if it would become privately-owned.

Because of those expenses, Ward uses the word “boondoggle” to describe the proposal – “a waste of money or time on unnecessary or questionable projects.”

Ward said he plans to discuss the issue during the Monday meeting, and to ask the council members what they think the city should do.

Ward and Mayor John Watson have been discussing the future of the IBSSS campus with the Regents since June.

Board of Regents Communication Director Josh Lehman said the talks between the city and Regents are focused on trying "to find a use for campus that will benefit the City of VInton and keep the AmeriCorps NCC Campus there while freeing up resources that can be used for services for the blind and visually impaired students we service."

Noting that the Braille School campus has not been used for residential students since 2011, Lehman adds, "Since IBSSS has a strong history and strong tie to Vinton, and since services for visually impaired students are now localized, this is something we have been interested in talking to them about."

Ward says that the Regents representatives have told him that if the city does not take up the offer, the Regents will look for another potential user.

“They tell us that if we don't take it, they will offer it to the next person in line,” says Ward, adding that he has no idea who that “next person” would be.

As with most negotiations regarding property, the discussions between city officials and Regents representatives were kept quiet – until Thursday, when a state official informed IBSSS employees of the Regents' intention to dispose of the property and eliminate the jobs of the campus staff (but not teachers). The employees were told that their jobs could be terminated within 12-20 months, depending on the outcome of the property disposal.

“They let the cat out of the bag,” said Ward, who wondered aloud if the “leak” was designed to force the city to take action on the proposal. Since then, Ward and other city officials have been getting questions and comments from families who receive services from IBSSS programs as well as local residents.

"It's all in here," said Ward, pointing to a 50-page report on his desk. That report includes the abstract of the property, and history of each of the buildings on the IBSSS campus, as well as the financial information.

The proposal has also caused a flurry of discussion among state leaders and legislators.

“This matter has not been on the Regents' agendas or in their minutes, so I alerted the Government Oversight Chair to be ready if needed,” said State Rep. Dawn Pettengill, who has been actively working for years to preserve the IBSSS campus and services.

Pettengill and State Sen. Tim Kapucian have been in contact with Regents and city officials.

“At this point, we have a local decision. I can help facilitate, make sure the Regents are respectful, lawful and accountable. I would encourage the public to stay engaged and let the city know what they think about the possible purchase,” says Pettengill.

Ward says local constituents who oppose the sale of IBSSS should not blame the legislators because the proposal came directly from representatives of the Board of Regents.

Along with a description of the property and buildings, the Regents' report includes the part of the Iowa code (262.9.8) that gives the Board of Regents authority to “acquire real estate for the proper uses of institutions under its control, and dispose of real estate belonging to the institutions when not necessary for their purposes.”

One local residents who has been actively involved with IBSSS issues for years is strongly opposed to the change.

“I think the state would be very irresponsible to make such a move,” said Robert Spangler. “Everyone thinks of the Braille School as a K - 12 school but in fact the campus could be utilized as a training facility for adults who are blind or visually impaired. There are people developing vision loss every day that could benefit from added resources that could be housed on this campus.”

Splash pad discussion delayed

The entire conversation started over a splash pad issue, says Ward. The Vinton Parks and Rec Department would like to install a splash pad at Kiwanis Park. But because the Regents own the park as part of the IBSSS campus, the city had to obtain permission from the Regents. The VPRD has been told that the decision on the splash pad is being delayed pending the real estate transaction.

The council's meeting on Monday will start at 7; it's the regular meeting, although it takes place three days earlier than the traditional fourth Thursday.



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Comments (6)

What an incredible opportunity for the community! The campus is a tremendous asset and could positively benefit all community members. This could be a new era in the rich history of IBSSS.
By: Jess Rundlett on August 19th 6:20pm
Couldn't this be saved through the National Historical Society and have funds available to help restore/repair it? It is quite the dilemma for the city but a great opportunity as well.
By: Betty Thorsvig on August 19th 11:30pm
See if VGH wants to purchase. Would make a great surgical and infusion center and maybe even a bigger physical therapy area
By: Lisa Rule on August 19th 11:58pm
The Iowa Braille School is on the National Historical Registry. This was a requirement to receive FEMA funding for the 2011 storm damage.

VGH contacted the Iowa Braille School in 2013. VGH was interested in exploring the possibility of utilizing the undeveloped land south of the superintendent's house and west of the barn/gym/parking garages. They were also interested in the land south of 13th Street.
By: Don Boddicker on August 21st 1:27am
The City of Vinton already has substantial infrastructure needs. Adding such a large facility requiring its own staff to maintain and its own significant maintenance shortcomings would seem to be an extreme economic burden. IBSSS is a significant part of Vinton history. It is unfortunate the facility's future is so uncertain. Ultimately, any decision to purchase the facility must be made based upon prudent financial considerations.
By: Chris Cantrell on August 21st 10:05pm
Not suggesting any impropriety, but I was shocked to see that the facility spends nearly $1,000,000 per year. Wow! Would be curious to see how.

Editor's Note:
The Operating Cost chart included in the documents presented to the city include salaries totalling $468,999, supplies (nearly $50K), repairs and maintenance ($175K) service agreements, vehicles, insurance and utility costs of $209K.
By: Gregg Sampson on August 22nd 4:36pm

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