WATERLOO — The city is seeking a court order to seize the former St. Mary’s Catholic Church and School which has fallen into severe disrepair.
Waterloo City Attorney Dave Zellhoefer has filed an action in Black Hawk County District Court seeking to take possession of the property at East Fourth and Parker streets.
The site, recently named among the state’s most endangered historic structures, was the home church and school of the five Sullivan brothers, Waterloo’s famous sons who died together while serving aboard the same U.S. Navy ship during World War II.
The property has sat empty and deteriorating since Cedar Valley Catholic Schools sold it in 2006 for $475,000 to an out-of-state investor who has not paid the accumulated property taxes and code enforcement assessments.
Zellhoefer said the city’s action to acquire the property under Iowa Code Section 657A targets only the eastern half of the property. The former St. Mary’s Villa — a similarly decaying convent converted into senior housing — is not part of the current court action.
“If this goes well we’ll go after the other half,” Zellhoefer said.
Plans call for the city to tear down the former rectory on the north end of the property which is necessary for a planned $3 million-plus project to increase the height of the Virden Creek levee.
City officials have said it’s possible the former church and school would need to be demolished due to their blighted condition.
Henry L.N. Anderson, of Downey, Calif., said he acquired the property in 2006 at the invitation of a Waterloo resident and community leader who said there would be funding available through the state and other sources for programs at the building.
In a news release to The Courier sent prior to the city’s court filing, Anderson said he saw it as “an opportunity to save this property from developers and revive it by running community-based programs and services funded out of the Governor’s Office and locally.
“I gave thought to the matters and ultimately decided I could use and replace my grandchidren’s education fund to make the acquisition,” Anderson said. “Within months I had put nearly $600,000 into the property, but no funded programs were coming from the Governor’s Office and nothing from other offices either.”
Anderson said his effort to sell the property has been hurt by rumors it would be condemned and then available to acquire for little to no cost from the city.
“Let this communication confirm that 123 E. Parker St./2127 E. Fourth St., Waterloo is FOR SALE,” Anderson wrote.
County Treasurer Rita Schmidt said unpaid property taxes on the parcels included in the city’s 657A action currently stand at just under $100,000. About $14,000 of that amount would be due to tax sale certificate holders if the city prevails in court, but the rest would be cancelled.
St. Mary’s Church and School was built in 1922, originally serving many immigrants settling in that area of the community. The convent and rectory were added to the property in 1956.
St. Mary’s Church stopped holding services in 2003 when several east side and Evansdale parishes were combined at the former St. Joseph Catholic Church site and renamed Queen of Peace. The Cedar Valley Catholic Schools Board of Education then closed the school and shut down St. Mary’s Villa for financial reasons in June 2006.