WATERLOO, Iowa --- A 92-year-old school building was reduced to a pile of bricks this week.
The former Frances Grout Elementary School, on the corner of Idaho and Madison streets, was demolished by Lavern Lehman Trucking and Excavation Inc. under a $69,300 contract awarded by City Council members in July.
The school opened in 1920 and closed in 1981. Its deterioration over the years created a neighborhood eyesore and public health nuisance that upset surrounding home owners and members of the Neighbors for Life Neighborhood Association.
"It's a shame it took 30 years," said Charles Howlett, who lives across Madison Street from the building and has approached council members several times asking for the three-story brick structure to be torn down.
Howlett bought his home expecting his daughter to begin attending Frances Grout school, but it closed a year later. The newly formed Cedar Valley Food Bank operated there on a lease from Waterloo Community Schools. The school board sold it for $500 in 1994 to Ron Penn.
Another resident bought the building in 2000 and lived in a portion of the structure before council members bought it for $25,000. Another $38,900 was spent to remove asbestos before the demolition contract was issued.
City leaders are excited about growth in the neighborhood, which has a new Highland Elementary School across Idaho Street and eight new houses built by former Mayor John Rooff on the Grout School's former playground.
Rooff has expressed interest in building more houses when the Grout school site is cleared. But no formal council action has been taken to transfer the property.
"That is a likely scenario but it is not guaranteed," said Chris Western, who coordinated the demolition project for the city's planning department.
Frances Grout is one of two dilapidated former school buildings in the Neighbors for Life area, the other being Lafayette Elementary School at 2265 Lafayette St.
Western said it will be much more difficult and expensive to demolish the Lafayette school.
"It's just such an expensive demo because we can't abate the asbestos in it," he said. "That's going to be a $300,000 to $500,000 job."
Tearing down the Lafayette school likely will require the contractor to treat every bit of the rubble as if it contained asbestos. That means wetting down the site constantly and wrapping all loads tightly before the material can be hauled away.