WATERLOO — The former St. Mary’s Church and School has been listed among the state’s “most endangered” historic structures by a preservation advocacy group.
Preservation Iowa designated the vacant and decaying buildings on the corner of East Fourth and Parker streets in Waterloo as one of 13 statewide historic properties at risk of disappearing.
“The longer that sits there the worst shape it gets in,” said City Councilman Pat Morrissey, who serves as a liaison to the city’s historic preservation commission. “I’m definitely concerned it’s going to come down because nothing’s happening there.”
Water was allowed to collect in the basements of the buildings, which led to black mold. Flooring has warped, Broken windows have left the structures at the whim of the elements.
“Now there are many in the community calling for the buildings to be bulldozed and the property to be developed,” the Preservation Iowa report stated.
Preservation Iowa is a nonprofit organization that uses the endangered building list to shine a spotlight on historic buildings in need. The listing does not qualify projects for funding or put any requirements on property owners.
St. Mary’s Church and School was built in 1922, originally serving many immigrants settling in that eastside area of the community. Waterloo’s famous five Sullivan brothers, who were killed during World War II while serving aboard the same U.S. Navy ship, worshipped and went to school there.
A convent and rectory were added to the property in 1956. The last nuns moved out of the convent in 1984, and it was converted into senior housing known as St. Mary’s Villa.
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 and shut down St. Mary’s Villa for financial reasons in June 2006.
All of the buildings were sold Dec. 29, 2006, to Henry L.N. Anderson of Los Angeles for $475,500. But the property has remained vacant while Anderson has failed to maintain or pay property taxes on the property.
The Black Hawk County Treasurer’s Office notes unpaid taxes and special assessments for city code enforcement actions have grown to nearly $108,000. Anderson has recently indicated his willingness to pay a portion of those taxes, but no money has been received as of Wednesday.
City Attorney Dave Zellhoefer said he is in the process of preparing an application to seize the property under Iowa Code Section 657A.
Should the city win its court case, taxpayers could be on the hook for demolition costs and City Council members could find themselves arbitrating between those who want the buildings saved and others who believe they should come down.
City engineering officials also indicated the rectory may need to be demolished for a Virden Creek levee project.