The following is the second article in a series looking at efforts citywide to clean up Fort Madison
BY CHUCK VANDENBERG
FORT MADISON – With city officials taking the lead on identifying dilapidated properties, several other groups are continuing to work with their resources to help spruce up the city.
One of the major and most impactful events is the Fort Madison Partners’ annual Paint-a-thon, where up to four houses get a fresh scrape and paint and some light repair and landscape work.
The effort is totally volunteer-based and sponsored by Southeast Iowa Community Action, Kempker’s True Value & Rental, Inc, and the Partners group.
Aside from that annual project, which is in its fourth year, Fort Madison Partners’ Executive Director Tim Gobble, said there are many other events, projects, and groups that people can contribute funds or sweat equity to in order to generate a better curb appeal for the city.
“The way we fit in with the city’s initiative right now is on a smaller scale. That being the traditional cleanups involving the Fort Madison High School’s Green Team. They have a monthly cleanup they are doing and they hit different segments of town,” Gobble said.
He said Savanna Collier, the chamber coordinator, is the adult point-person for that program and can answer any questions regarding that group’s efforts.
The Chamber still hosts the annual fall cleanup in the spring which is focused on picking up trash along highly traveled roadsides and other areas of the city, again all with volunteer help and donations.
“The last piece, as far as cleanups would be, is right before the boats come in,” Gobble said referring to the American Cruise Lines’ Fort Madison ports of call in the summer.
“Again, this is all volunteer-based, but we come in and try to spruce up the historic district right before the boats come in. These are smaller ticket efforts, but they make a huge difference right away and that’s good for the city on many levels.”
New this year, the Chamber is partnering with the city and would like to host an adoption program for the city parks where individuals or groups would adopt a bench or a shelter house to try to alleviate the burden on city employees to maintain those areas.
“The idea is to have the group(s) go in and clean those up, possibly partnering with local schools when the opportunity arises. With all that is going on now, it might be tight to get much accomplished this year, but maybe next year we can get some things done.”
At the Community Neighborhood Watch meeting last week, Larry Lee Stewart, one of the leaders of the combined groups, said they are considering adopting a city park. Rotary has adopted Central Park and has been responsible for maintenance and improvements there for many years, while the Old Settler’s Association has taken responsibility for Old Settler’s Park.
Stewart told about 50 attendees at the watch group meeting, that plans were being discussed but nothing formal had been decided at this point.
He said it’s efforts and ideas like that that will help private efforts complement what the city is doing on its end.
“Rotary has adopted Central Park and Old Settlers Association has adopted Old Settlers. But if we could find groups that would be interested in taking those on that would be great. Ultimately, it would be fantastic if all the parks have some kind of volunteer groups helping them out,” he said.
Gobble said a new piece in private efforts is the Fort Madison Community Beautification Foundation.
“This will be the 501c3 organization that could take on donations that could be earmarked specifically for areas of town – for example downtown,” Gobble said.
“Once the sidewalks get done, maybe that money could be specifically donated to light fixtures or other accessories downtown and we could break that down into more specific uses,” he said.
Gobble said he hopes the recent push for self-isolation as the country deals with the coronavirus outbreak, isn’t a detriment to clean up efforts, specifically the Paint-A-Thon set to begin in April 27.
“A lot of the virus protections involve enclosed gatherings, but I’m not sure if I had 10 people spread around a house, if that’s something public health officials would caution against,” he said. “At this point, I hope not..”
He said volunteers and donations are still being accepted for the program, as they are for most of the coordinated clean up efforts.
“A lot of it’s the money goes toward buying the things we need. We have different events throughout the year that help build pools of money. But those are smaller fundraisers, $500 here or $400 there that have enabled us to buy rakes, weed eaters, and that kind of thing,” he said.
“Doing the Paint-A-Thon we’ve found that pressure washers help speed up the prep work, but we burned one out last year as it wasn’t meant for that much use, and we have to replace those. It would great to find a sponsor to help maybe keep some better washers in house and use them year to year.”
Gobble said the city is heading in the right direction.
“Are things working as fast as people want them to do. Probably not, but there is a lot of red tape and legal things that make these projects not as easy as we’d hope,” he said.
“The city is working within the parameters they can, but ultimately it comes back on the property owners. If you own a home, try to make sure you’re doing your part in keeping it up.”
The aging stock of Fort Madison homes is also a hurdle. It’s going to be costly to get some of these things done.” he said.
“And a lot of these homes, especially in the older part of town, are rentals. Are owners putting some of that rent back into the property? Is the city holding their feet to the fire to make sure properties are aesthetically pleasing and up to code?”
He also reminded residents of the app the city has that can be downloaded to your phone from Google Play or the App Store. The app allows anyone to report an issue of concern in the city and the item is immediately logged into a public works queue at City Hall for action.