BY CHUCK VANDENBERG
FORT MADISON – A partnership could be in the works that could result in some properties in Fort Madison getting a rehab.
Fort Madison Mayor Brad Randolph and Fort Madison High School Principal Greg Smith have had conversations about a program that could lead to students in the building trades classes and the agriculture classes helping rehab dilapidated homes.
When Fort Madison High School dedicated the new Richmond Stadium press box, Smith said the project was a result of partnerships that are key to the school and the community.
“This is what high school should be. It’s a community partnership with our kids and with them and they learn from one another and that’s what it’s all about. Partnerships with the community is what we’re after. We’re trying to do more and more and more,” Smith said.
Smith also revealed that he’s had internal conversations at the school about the possibility of partnering the trades program and the agriculture program to get some properties in the city back in shape and usable.
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“We had a conference over the summer. Clint (Kobelt, the building trades instructor) and Bonnie Slee our ag teacher, said you know we could do the landscaping, you do the construction and we could just rehab the property. I called our mayor and Brad said, well let’s do that,” Smith said.
Randolph said he sees the project as a win-win for everyone.
“It sounded like a great idea when Greg pitched it to me. They’ve got a well-run program there and everyone needs that hands-on experience. Taking a property that is substandard and recreating something out of that, builds confidence with the students and helps the community,” the mayor said.
But tight city budgets could put a hamper on the project unless a component could be found that would help with material costs. Randolph said that might require a third, non-profit partnership to help bring things along.
“The city doesn’t want to be in the real estate business. You’d have to have some kind of non-profit arm,” he said. “Say the city got deeded with the property and worked it out with high school programs to rehab the property. You get it up to code and standard and then that property was put on the market, you’d probably have to deed it over to a non-profit and sell it.”
Only a few conversations have taken place regarding the project and Randolph said he wished they were a little further along in hashing out the details.
“Boy that sounds like a win for the community and the district,” he said. “When you’re able to use the horsepower of the trades program and get that group learning experience in working on a property that might not otherwise see that benefit, the community could recognize a saved building or future use and you can’t help but that think that wouldn’t be a great idea.”
One group that could possibly help with the non-profit piece could be the local Habitat for Humanity chapter.
Local chapter president Tony Wolfe said it could be a consideration but is out of the scope of what Habitat projects usually entail.
“While our chapter does not mandate ground up construction, my understanding is that our focus locally has been on new construction in Fort Madison,” Wolfe said. “That said, with the continued rise in costs to complete a project, rehabs might be a future consideration. Funding and labor to build are current challenges in completing projects more frequently.”
Randolph said out of the gate the city would need to identify one or two properties that would fit the project and were readily available.
He said part of a bigger problem is for the city to take possession of properties that could be rehabbed. Randolph said a lot of times, the properties fall into serious disrepair from neglect before the city has the resources or the authority to take ownership.
“The city’s dilemma is acquiring a property at a time that it still has the ability to be fixed. A lot of those properties that are dilapidated – we don’t have ownership of them and we can’t just go out and get ownership,” he said “It sits there for too long and we can’t get access. We can’t get a hold of the owner and there’s a legal process for us to be able to take it over.”
Randolph said he’s hoping to have more conversations about the project in the spring and at that time see if there are any properties that could fit a test project.