WATERLOO | The closing of the former St. Mary's Catholic Church and School hit Jim Dolan hard.
But watching the buildings at East Fourth and Parker streets sit empty and deteriorating for the past eight years has left the 80-old-resident heartsick.
"It's just a shame to see a building of that quality and historical value that's been totally decimated," Dolan said. "It was such a prominent part of the community."
Dolan attended Mass at St. Mary's his entire life until it closed in 2006. He spent 12 years at the school, which was later renamed Queen of Peace, made a little money setting pins in the downstairs bowling alley, served on the school board and was married there in 1953.
The former church and school, convent and rectory in the heart of the city's east side are in clear decay. Windows are broken or boarded up, soffets have fallen and large weeds have forced their way through the parking lots.
An out-of-state owner has neglected to pay more than $50,000 in back property taxes and bills levied by the city for snow removal, sidewalk repairs and water kills.
Growing concern from former parishioners and current neighbors is causing City Hall to evaluate its legal options to either seize or clean up the site.
"We have received many complaints about the continuing deterioration of the grounds," said Mayor Buck Clark. "We can't just let it sit there and get to the point it's headed."
St. Mary's Church stopped holding services in 2003 when several parishes were combined and the school was renamed Queen of Peace. The Cedar Valley Catholic Schools Board of Education then closed the school for financial reasons in June 2006.
Also shut down was St. Mary's Villa, a former convent on the site which was turned into a senior housing facility in 1987.
All of the buildings were sold Dec. 29, 2006, to Henry L.N. Anderson of Los Angeles for $475,500. The property title was changed last October to WinGlobal USA, a limited liability company incorporated in Nevada with a registered agent in San Diego.
Letters sent by The Courier to WinGlobal's mailing address seeking comment and repeated attempts to reach Anderson through emails over the past six months have generated no response.
Anderson initially indicated to Queen of Peace and the Black Hawk County Assessor's Office the site would be used for charitable and educational purposes. Anderson runs City University of Los Angeles, a "distance learning" school.
But the assessor revoked the property's tax-exempt status in 2011 when it was clear nothing was happening there.
While the grounds appear to receive some maintenance — windows and doors are secure and the grass generally is mowed — city officials said the owner has been unresponsive to their concerns.
Anderson refused to let the city remove police radio equipment Queen of Peace had allowed to be installed on the roof.
The Waterloo Water Works received no response when it sent repair notices for an inoperable pave box in 2010 and leaking service line in 2012, said Dennis Clark, general manager. In both cases, the Water Works hired a plumber to make the repairs and assessed the costs to the tax bill.
But Anderson and WinGlobal have not paid the tax bills.
Black Hawk County Treasurer's Office records show it would take $50,462 to pay off the accumulated back taxes, and current and pending assessments on the four parcels making up the St. Mary's site.
A Dubuque tax sale investor had acquired tax sale certificates on two of those parcels last year by paying the taxes owed and eventually could claim ownership if those taxes are not reimbursed with interest.
Treasurer Rita Schmidt said the owner had been in contact with her office this month indicating his intent to pay off the back taxes.
Even if the taxes get paid, city officials want to see some improvement to the site or they may attempt to utilize Iowa Code Section 657A, which the city has used many times to take ownership of vacant, blighted houses.
"The building and grounds are close to being eligible for 657A action," Mayor Clark said. "We've had those discussions recently."
John Hayes, a local business owner who went to school at St. Mary's, is hoping something can be done to preserve the history of the property.
St. Mary's Church and School was built in 1922 and the convent and rectory were added in 1956. Peoples Community Health Clinic occupied the first floor of the convent from 1979 to 1986. The last nuns moved out of the convent in 1984.
Waterloo's famous five Sullivan brothers who were killed during World War II attended St. Mary's church and school, and the Sullivan family donated the Our Lady of Peace statue erected on the grounds in 1956. The statue was rescued and restored after the 2006 sale and is now displayed at the Waterloo Knights of Columbus Council 700 Hall, 1955 Locke Ave.
"I've got three generations on both sides of my family that went to church there," Hayes said. "I drive by there every day, and it's extremely disappointing to say the least."
Hayes toured vacant properties in Detroit recently with a group of local Main Street Waterloo representatives and was struck by the decay even a few years of disuse can create.
"That's what concerns me about these (St. Mary's) buildings," Hayes said. "It would be nice to not see the boards on the windows and to see the lights on and the buildings maintained."
Former Black Hawk County Supervisor Leon Mosley, a founder and member of the Gates Park Neighborhood Association who can see St. Mary's from his backyard, said the condition of the property comes up during every neighborhood association meeting.
"We don't want it just sitting there," Mosley said. "We want to see something happen with it."