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Waterloo vows to demolish dilapidated properties

WATERLOO — Sherry Gable used some choice alliteration to describe a rundown building at West Second and Wellington streets.

“It is in a decrepit, despicable, deplorable condition,” Gable said. “It is aesthetically abysmal.”

Gable and Philip Oltrogge, who lives two doors down from the former Koinonia Ministries Full Gospel Baptist Church, brought their concerns to Waterloo City Council members Tuesday, saying it is long overdue for the city to address safety and aesthetic problems caused by the dilapidated building.

The 127-year-old church was acquired by the city in 2016 through a court order after the previous owners failed to maintain the building which was ravaged by nature and vandalism.

It is one of several large eyesores the city now owns but has not yet demolished.

“Children can walk in there,” Gable said. “Animals can walk in there. Anyone can walk in there.”

Mayor Quentin Hart couldn’t argue.

“You are absolutely correct,” Hart said. “Everything you said was absolutely true.”

Hart and Community Planning and Development Director Noel Anderson vowed the building would be demolished by April along with several other crumbling nuisances.

“We are putting together the documents and steps to move ahead with demolition for this,” Anderson said. “This structure is in our main priority group for demolition over this winter, so it should be coming down over this winter.”

Anderson said the city has general obligation bond money available to remove the church along with a crumbling brick building the city acquired in September 2016 at West Ninth Street and Grant Avenue and the “castle-style” fire-damaged apartment building in the 900 block of Commercial Street, which the city has owned for more than four years.

“The city is targeting the locations which we believe to be the highest in terms of safety concerns, visibility and redevelopment opportunities,” Anderson said. “Some of these structures have been fire damaged, so we will be requiring walk-throughs where necessary to determine if the asbestos guys can go in and test and remediate.”

The city also has multiple residential structures acquired through Iowa Code Section 657A that need to be torn down.

Anderson said the city typically begins demolition efforts in the late fall because it tends to generate more competitive bids from construction companies seeking winter work.

The former St. Mary’s Church and School property at East Fourth and Parker streets is not among the 13 properties on the city’s demolition priority list. The city acquired the church, school and rectory through a court order this summer but has not secured ownership of St. Mary’s Villa.

Anderson said the city is waiting to secure all of the buildings on the site to removed them under a single demolition contract.

Adoption inquiries pouring in for 160 dogs seized from puppy mill

MANLY— The Worth County Sheriff's Office is asking for patience among those interested in adopting one of the 160 dogs seized from a puppy mill Monday in Worth County.

“We received many inquiries from people expressing interest in adopting these animals, and we ask for their patience as these animals are considered evidence in an active case,” Sheriff Dan Fank said in a press release. “Charges are still pending, and we will provide an update as we continue our investigation.”

On Monday, the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals removed animals from "an inhumane commercial breeding facility" near the Iowa-Minnesota border.

The Samoyed breed dogs were moved to an undisclosed temporary shelter where they are receiving ongoing care and treatment until custody is determined by the court.

Many of the dogs were found living in overcrowded conditions in below-freezing temperatures and exhibited signs of neglect.

The investigation was set into motion by the sheriff’s office several months ago when local animal welfare groups became aware of the breeder’s inability to properly care for her animals and asked local authorities to investigate, according to the ASPCA. Animal neglect charges are pending based on evidence collected by ASPCA experts in support of the investigation.

Over the next few days, ASPCA veterinary and behavior experts will be conduct medical exams to assess each individual animal, as well as implement behavior enrichment protocols such as providing socialization, treats and toys.

“Our priority is to get these animals much-needed medical care and treatment and continue to support the Worth County Sheriff’s Office with their case,” said Tim Rickey, vice president of ASPCA Field Investigations and Response, in a press release. “We appreciate the overwhelming support from the public and plan to help the sheriff’s office seek suitable placement options once disposition is determined and give animal lovers an opportunity to give these animals loving homes.”

The following agencies are supporting the ASPCA in the field and with its sheltering operation: Animal Rescue League of Iowa; Companion Animal Practices North America; Dubuque Regional Humane Society; Humane Society of North Iowa; Humane Society of Scott County; Nebraska Humane Society; Veterinary Centers of America; and Wichita Animal Action League.

See all the photos of the Samoyeds seized from an Iowa puppy mill


An ASCPA worker removes two Samoyed puppies from a puppy mill near Manly on Monday.

Cedar Falls board looks at high school facility needs

CEDAR FALLS — An architect laid out the limitations of keeping Cedar Falls High School in the same location to the Board of Education this week.

Brad Leeper of Invision Architecture made the presentation as the firm prepares to gather more community input on the future of the school. Cedar Falls Community Schools has retained the Waterloo company to assess the building and potentially design a new school.

The district purchased a 50-acre site off West 27th Street for $1.24 million from the University of Northern Iowa in February 2017 where the building could be located. No other action has been taken by the board at this point to set the voter referendum that would be necessary to fund construction.

Leeper noted the current building, which has had 13 additions since being constructed in 1953, includes limited space for expansion and is in need of costly renovations. Already, 60 percent of student parking is off-campus in the surrounding neighborhood.

“We’re really anticipating a 30 percent enrollment growth over the next 10 years,” said Leeper. “If we do nothing, then that means class sizes get larger. We’re going to be well over 30 on those class sizes if that happens.”

Superintendent Andy Pattee said much potential for growth of the high school can be seen in a comparison of recent senior classes versus current elementary classes.

“We’ve been graduating our senior classes in about the 350 to about 370 range,” he said. “Our elementary classes are roughly about 440 to 450. I think our smallest one right now is right around 415.”

Buying surrounding homes to expand the existing 17-acre site would be costly at an estimated $1.5 million per acre, said Leeper. There’s an expense to renovating even the existing building, though.

“If we look at the numbers holistically, 75 percent of the building is in need of major renovation,” said Leeper. “A lot of those areas are behind the wall that the public sees on a daily basis. The cost of adding on and renovating the building is about 76 percent of the cost of a new building, so it’s significant.”

Pattee noted that even if the school is renovated with limited expansion on the existing site, the district would run out of space after another 15 years.

“What’s our short list for what we do with our existing building?” asked board member Jeff Hassman, if a new school is built.

“There are parts of the building that have life left in them,” said Leeper, noting areas such as the office, the gym and other athletic facilities. “There are other parts of the building that maybe don’t and should be torn down.”

He added, “I think there’s a lot of opportunities for reuse. I don’t have specifics at this point, but I think that needs to be a broader community conversation.”

While there is interest in repurposing portions of the building, Pattee ruled out using the property for another school or new bus garage location. “But I think there are some other scalable options that would be a proper and prudent use of that,” he said.

GOP picks Grassley for presidential line of succession

CEDAR RAPIDS --- Being three heartbeats from the presidency won’t change U.S. Sen. Chuck Grassley, the seventh-term Iowa Republican said Wednesday after GOP colleagues nominated him to be president pro tempore, which would make him the first Iowan in decades to be in the constitutional line of presidential succession.

The Senate president pro tempore, traditionally the most senior member of the majority party, is third in the line of presidential succession, following the vice president and the speaker of the House.

“Don’t expect me to be anything other than Iowa’s U.S. senator, which is my life’s biggest honor,” Grassley said during his weekly conference call with Iowa reporters.

It is an honor “for me and the state of Iowa” to serve as president pro tempore, Grassley said about being nominated to one of only a handful of offices specified in the Constitution.

Before addressing his own nomination, Grassley reported that his Iowa colleague, U.S. Sen. Joni Ernst, was elected vice chairwoman of the Republican Senate Conference. She defeated Nebraska Sen. Den Fischer in the only contested leadership race.

Grassley, 85, was nominated by members of the 116th Congress’ Senate GOP caucus. He is expected to be confirmed by the full Senate Jan. 3 to succeed current Senate president pro tempore Orrin Hatch of Utah, who is retiring at the end of this term.

The new responsibilities, which include opening the Senate each day and ceremonial functions, will not interfere with serving as a committee chairman, Grassley said.

He has been chairman of the Judiciary Committee for four years, noted for shepherding the U.S. Supreme Court nominations of Neil Gorsuch and Brett Kavanaugh.

But he is considering whether to give up that role to instead be chairman of the Finance Committee, which he formerly chaired. He expects to announce his choice soon — after consulting with colleagues who would be affected by his decision.

As president pro tem, Grassley plans to “continue to foster the Senate’s role as a more deliberative body” and help it uphold its constitutional duty as a check on the executive and judicial branches of government, including deciding whether to confirm presidential nominees.

Also in his new role, Grassley said, he will “have a seat at the table” at Senate leadership meetings.

Participating in those leadership discussions along with Ernst is “exciting news for Iowans who can be sure their voices will be heard more than ever, leveraging even more leadership for Iowa in the nation’s capital,” Grassley said.

He believes it’s the first time both Iowa senators have held leadership positions in the Senate majority.

The only other Iowan to serve as president pro tempore was Sen. Albert Cummins, who was first chosen in 1919. Cummins, who worked in the Clayton County Recorder’s Office before serving as Iowa governor, held the post in the 66th, 67th, 68th and 69th Congresses.

Another Iowan, Henry Wallace, was in the presidential line of succession from 1941-45 when he served as vice president to Franklin D. Roosevelt. And of course another Iowan, Herbert Hoover, was president from 1929-33.

Perhaps because it’s unlikely that he will be called on to assume the presidency, Grassley said he’s not concerned about the gravitas attached to the title.

“I may only be three heartbeats away from the Oval Office,” he said, “but my heart is and always will be in Iowa and here in the U.S. Senate, where I’ve worked for the people of Iowa and our nation for 38 years.”