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County eyes $5.5 minimum offer on Country View sale

WATERLOO — A firm hired to market Black Hawk County’s Country View care center believes it could be sold for at least $5.5 million.

Marcus & Millichap, a national real estate brokerage, presented its valuation opinion Thursday on the 168-bed county-run skilled nursing and mental health care center north of Waterloo.

The Board of Supervisors retained the company to seek buyers for Country View, which has been running growing operating deficits projected to drive a $2 million property tax subsidy next year.

Board members voted 4-1 Feb. 8 to market Country View with the understanding they could reject the sale if they weren’t comfortable with the buyers or their plans.

Marcus & Millichap’s Ryan Fleming said Country View offers enough opportunity in the local skilled nursing market to attract interest from buyers willing to bid anywhere from $5.5 million to $8.5 million.

“That $5.5 million number, we feel very confident of achieving that,” Fleming said. “We feel 85 to 90 percent confident that there will be qualified nursing home players that will want to look at this deal.”

Supervisor Chris Schwartz, who had voted against looking into selling Country View, was troubled by an analysis showing a potential buyer could turn Country View’s projected $2.7 million annual operating loss into a $1.2 million gain by cutting benefits and payroll tax levels.

Country View currently pays $113 per patient day in employee benefits while the average of 12 other nursing homes in the area is $13 per day, Fleming said.

“Are you suggesting that most of the savings for a new company that would buy this would come from busting the unions, scrapping the pensions and taking what is good health care right now and replace it with mediocre health care?” Schwartz said.

Fleming said Marcus & Millichap is not interested in bringing in a buyer that has a bad track record in that regard.

“We’re looking at the average cost in the market,” Fleming said. “Those (benefit) rates that we’re looking at are what your competitors are running.

“The goal is to bring a group in that wants to own this for the next 50 years,” he added. “A group that buys this home does not want to come into the community and ruffle everyone’s feathers and set everybody off. It’s sensitive. People are connected to this home.”

Board chairman Craig White said he will be interested in how a potential buyer plans to treat existing staff.

“We’ve got a lot of long-time employees out there,” he said.

Fleming said the sale process is likely to take between three to six months, depending in part on how quickly a request for proposals can be put together.

UNI professor memorialized in portrait painted by former student

CEDAR FALLS — John Baskerville died almost three years ago, but the associate professor of history is not forgotten at the University of Northern Iowa.

A portrait of the Waterloo native, who also had been a well-known bassist in local bands, was unveiled this week and will hang in Seerley Hall’s Howard Room.

It was painted by Rhonda Gray, a student of Baskerville’s who graduated from UNI in 2002 with a history education degree. She is now a history instructor at Triton College in River Grove, Ill., and an emerging African-American artist in the Chicago area.

“We really needed to memorialize John, and this seemed like a good way to do it,” said Tom Connors, associate professor of history.

Baskerville was 52 when he died in March 2015. Along with other subjects, he taught a number of African-American studies classes and seminars as well as black music history.

Gray caught the attention of history department faculty as they sought an artist to commission the work.

“Rhonda is one of our alumna,” said Connors. “Everybody loved her stuff and thought this would be a really nice tribute.”

The painting was officially unveiled Wednesday evening, when Gray gave a talk on “Black Mojo and the Art of Cultural Resistance.”

“It’s one of the greatest honors,” said Gray, a self-taught artist who hadn’t been back to the university since leaving after graduation. “It feels amazing, a little overwhelming. So many thoughts, reflections are coming back.”

In the talk, she discussed “the power of art to exact change through building moral empathy and opening consciousness.” She shared some her work and influences with the audience.

Gray painted with acrylics and also used art paper collage to create the background in Baskerville’s portrait. “I’ve come to be known for my mixed media paintings,” she said.

The background colors “represent different sounds,” emblems of the music he played, explained Gray. Baskerville performed jazz and rock as a member of Checker and the Bluetones, the final band he was part of.

“But he also has a professional posturing” in the portrait, she said, “representing that duality of how I saw him.” Gray based his pose in the painting on a photograph.

“I went through about 50 different photographs — over 50 different photographs — to decide which one to use,” she said. “And something just drew me to this one. He kind of has a peaceful, happy countenance on his face.”

Gray, a first-generation college graduate, came to UNI from the Chicago area after visiting the campus in high school through the Talent Search program. She remembers Baskerville as an approachable professor who helped provoke much critical thought in her.

“I learned a lot from Dr. Baskerville, things that were not being taught in the public schools,” she said. “He made it interesting and fun, too.”

She fondly remembers being on an episode of the KBBG-FM radio program “Community Rhythms” with Baskerville and co-host Scharron Clayton, another UNI professor who has since died. Gray was Clayton’s research assistant at that time. “We all three had a great conversation on that program,” she said.

She started painting soon after finishing her UNI degree. While in a period of prayer, fasting and taking a break from TV, she recounted hearing a voice. Gray describes what she heard as “divine direction to paint” and got right to work. Within months, she held her first show at a Waterloo church.

She started to apply at juried shows and appeared in Chicago festivals. Her paintings were eventually being sold at galleries.

Most recently, Gray has been doing mural mosaic projects in low-income neighborhoods on the city’s south side through the nonprofit Changing Worlds and a Chicago museum. She also teaches art after school to children. In addition, she performs as a jazz vocalist and is part of an all-woman African drum and dance company.

The melding of academic and artistic interests in her life is a little reminiscent of her old professor.

“I like that Dr. Baskerville and me, we share that Renaissance vibe,” said Gray.

Appeals Court rules against Fairbank wind farm

FAIRBANK — The Iowa Court of Appeals dealt a blow Wednesday to three wind turbines built just east of Fairbank.

The appeals court upheld a Fayette County District Court ruling that Mason Wind and Optimum Renewables built the wind energy towers in violation of the county zoning ordinance.

The turbine developers, which completed the three 445-foot wind towers with an estimated cost of $11 million while the appeals were still pending, now face a court ruling to remove them.

Surrounding property owners and the city of Fairbank filed a lawsuit in late 2015 after voicing concerns the turbines near the Flint Hills Resources ethanol plant would hurt their quality of life and lower property values.

But the issue before the court centered around whether the county Board of Adjustment and zoning administrator correctly interpreted the county’s zoning ordinance when issuing approvals for the project.

County officials had concluded the wind turbines were “electrical transmission and regulating” facilities that did not require a special permit approved by the Board of Adjustment.

District Court Judge John Bauercamper in late 2016 ruled the turbines were actually electrical generating devices that did require approval from the Board of Adjustment.

Mason Wind and Optimum Renewables challenged the interpretation to the Court of Appeals, which agreed with Bauercamper.

“The question is whether or not a wind turbine that produces electricity is or is not an electrical transmission and regulation facility,” the ruling states. “… As commonly understood, this language would not encompass wind turbines.”

The protracted legal battle prompted Fayette County to amend its zoning ordinance to more clearly define the process for locating wind turbines.

The new ordinance, among other things, requires any commercial wind energy project to get approval from the Board of Supervisors; to be at least three times the tower height or 1,500 feet from any occupied building; and does not allow construction within one mile of an incorporated city without that’s city’s written permission.

The Courier reached out to attorneys on both sides of the case but did not get a response Thursday.

UPDATE: Former student identified as threat source in Riceville

RICEVILLE — A former Rice-ville student has been identified as the suspect behind an unspecified threat that canceled classes in Riceville Thursday, law enforcement states.

The name of the suspect has not been released, but the Howard County Sheriff’s Office said in a news release the investigation is ongoing.

Howard County Sheriff Mike Miner said Thursday he couldn’t release any more information about the threat or the suspect, but said he did not believe anyone else was involved. Criminal charges are pending, according to Miner.

The district was made aware of a “potential safety concern” about 10:30 p.m. Wednesday, Riceville Superintendent Barb Schwamman said via phone Thursday morning.

The concern came when a group of students reported the potential threat — which the sheriff’s office said came from someone outside the school — to an administrator. The exact nature of the threat has not been released.

Schwamman said because of the timing of the report, she and law enforcement officials felt it was in the best interest of students and staff to not hold school or day care Thursday. The Riceville Community Day Care is also located within the school’s building.

“I applaud the students for their bravery for coming forward to make the school aware of the issue,” Schwamman said.

She added it is the district’s concern to always keep students and staff safe.

“We have been working with Howard County law enforcement all through the night,” Schwamman said.

Riceville Schools and the Howard County Sheriff’s Office released a statement after canceling classes Thursday.

“We are thankful to the students that reported this to school officials and it is important to discuss with your children and students that it is not appropriate, nor acceptable, to make threats, joke about, or make light of school shootings,” the release stated. “We also continue to encourage anyone to report any threats to adults.”

The FBI, U.S. Attorney General and Howard County Attorney are providing assistance in the investigation.

This threat comes just over a week after the Feb.14 mass shooting at Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla. Fourteen students and three staff members were killed with many others injured.

There have been multiple stories across the United States of potential shooting threats within the past week.

An 18-year-old was charged Wednesday with a felony after bringing a loaded gun to school in Griffith, Ind.

Trace T. Robertson told a school resource officer at Griffith High School that he had mistakenly brought the gun inside the school and asked if the officer could “cut him a break,” the Northwest Indiana Times reported.

There was a lock down Wednesday at Orono public schools in the Minneapolis metro area after social media posts threatened a school shooting. Several area schools in York, Penn., were closed Wednesday and Thursday for a series of threats.

Press-News Editor Jim Cross, Globe Gazette News Editor Ashley Miller and Globe Gazette reporter Courtney Fiorini contributed to this article.