Questions linger as MS project vote nears | News, Sports, Jobs | #Education

Tama County Economic Development Director Katherine Ollendieck (right) addresses the South Tama Board of Education following a
recommendation the school’s Middle School Facilities Task Force presented to located the middle school building project at the vacant
Iowa Juvenile Home property in Toledo. Ollendieck is working to use the City of Toledo as a pass-through for demolition funding and
contracting prior to the property being handed over to the school district. Also pictured are Task Force member Matt Zmolek (standing),
Board Director Beth Wiese (seated left) and STC Superintendent Jared Smith (seated right). — Photo by Darvin Graham

Editor’s Note (12/23): Following a special session held by the South Tama Board of Education on Dec. 23, both the STC Board of Education and the Toledo City Council will be meeting Monday, Dec. 27 to potentially vote to proceed with the Middle School Bond Referendum at the Iowa Juvenile Home site. The STC Board looks to vote to approve the petition language for the bond referendum and the Toledo Council is set to vote on a resolution of support of the former Iowa Juvenile Home as the South Tama Community School District site for the new middle school.

A second community survey was administered last week to gauge public interest in supporting the IJH location if the total project amount were raised from $25 million to $28 million. Results of the survey showed out of 524 participants, 332 were still in favor of the IJH option at higher bond amount and 192 were in favor of the option at the high school budgeted at $31 million.


After eight months back at the drawing board, South Tama’s Middle School Facilities Task Force returned to the Board of Education with a formal recommendation.

Present at the board’s Dec. 13 regular meeting on behalf of the community-led Task Force were Matt Zmolek, Charlotte Upah and Doug Stadler.

South Tama Facilities Task Force Members Doug Stadler and Charlotte Upah were among three members of the volunteer group present at the Dec. 13 board meeting. — Photo by Darvin Graham

The task force’s recommendation calls for a major renovation of the vacant Iowa Juvenile Home (IJH) facility in Toledo, with an addition to the north of the existing main building.

The total project budget range provided by Estes Construction for the IJH option was between $23.1 million and $28.5 million with a target average of $25 million the Task Force believed would finance the IJH project.

The reasoning for the decision making behind the Task Force’s recommendation appears to lie on the cheaper price tag the IJH project carried in comparison to the new construction option at the high school site that was projected at a project cost range from $29.6 million to $34.3 million ($31 million target average).

A survey that was distributed to staff, parents and community members through the month of November also was cited as a motivator toward the decision to recommend the Juvenile Home option.

The survey received 660 responses and asked two questions of participants. In answer to which project option would be best for students, 347 participants chose the IJH option, 252 participants chose the High School option and 61 participants said they had no preference.

South Tama Board Members Penny Tyynismaa and Clint Werner review a preliminary drawing of a housing development proposal with Tama County Economic Development Director Katherine Ollendieck. The City of Toledo prepared the plan should the school proceed to acquire the school building portion of the 27-acre campus. The proposal calls for housing south of the Juvenile Home facility and down the east side of the property up to the Elm and Grace Street intersection. — Photo by Darvin Graham

In answer to which project option would be most likely to be approved by voters, 460 participants chose the IJH option, 131 participants chose the High School option and 69 participants said they had no preference.

Unknowns at IJH

In recent weeks the South Tama District hired a third-party engineering firm, IMEG Corp. of Urbandale to conduct an assessment of the heating, cooling, electrical and plumbing systems at the IJH facility and provide additional feedback to the board regarding the condition of those systems and estimated costs to address any findings their assessment uncovered.

Construction manager Ryan Ellsworth of Estes Construction presented the results of the assessment to the board which indicated a number much higher than originally budgeted by Estes to replace the plumbing system, much of the HVAC system and address a handful of smaller concerns with the electrical system, fire alarms, technology system and the geothermal system.

In the original project estimate provided by Estes Construction, the cost to address the IJH mechanical systems was expected to be around $4.1 million.

Tama County Economic Development Director Katherine Ollendieck and Estes Construction Project Executive Ryan Ellsworth answer questions regarding the vacant Iowa Juvenile Home facility as an option for the STC Middle School site. — Photo by Darvin Graham

The assessment by IMEG Corp. returned with a cost estimate at $9.7 million.

“We at Estes cannot figure where that number came from,” Ellsworth said.

According to Ellsworth, Estes employees revisited bids that have come in through their company in the past few months and found no information that would support anything close to a $9.7 million cost estimate.

“I feel very strongly in the range within the budget that we’ve already given you,” Ellsworth said. “That’s what we’re willing to stand behind and judging by what we’ve seen in the market, that’s what these things will cost.”

Apart from the disparity in overall mechanical systems renovation costs, the IMEG Corp. assessment also relayed three items that Estes did not include in their original estimate that could impact the bottom line of the $25 million project being considered even if Estes’ $4.1 million mechanical systems estimate is correct.

Ellsworth said the facility’s rooftop heating and cooling units would likely need replaced as they have not been maintenanced for several years and may reach the end of their life cycle quicker than expected.

The pumps which facilitate the heating of the buildings are also recommended to be replaced as they have a typical lifespan of 8 to 15 years, which could be shortened given the length of time the property has sat vacant.

Lastly, the original estimate did not account for a replacement of the automation system that sets the heating, cooling and electrical systems to timers based on days of the week and seasons in the year.

The automated system will need to be replaced as the unit that controls the existing system was sold by the State when the facility was shuttered in 2014. This has resulted in the facility’s lights, heating and cooling to operate automatically in a continuous fashion over the past seven years without a way to gain control of the system.

According to Ellsworth, the company that manufactured the original automated control system no longer produces what would be needed to replace the original control unit.

This also may answer the question some community members may have asked as they passed by the IJH facility in the evening, wondering why building lights were turned on and off at random with no apparent regularity.

Asbestos potential issue

In responding to a question from board director Elizabeth Dolezal regarding other potential unknowns with the property that could pose concerns, Ellsworth said one of the biggest unknowns was the asbestos situation.

“We have been told the facility was cleared of asbestos at the time that (the State) built on the addition,” Ellsworth said. “But we saw some evidence when we walked through it of some possible asbestos-containing adhesives.”

Ellsworth went on to suggest it should be the State’s responsibility to abate that issue before selling the property, but that if their position was to provide a flat fee for demolition, that the school may be at risk for holding the bag for additional unforeseen costs to abate the asbestos.

Once the discussion arrived at asbestos abatement at the IJH facility, Tama County Economic Development Director Katherine Ollendieck got up to address the board about a potential solution she is working to broker between the City of Toledo, the State Department of Administrative Services and the South Tama School District.

In her comments Ollendieck laid out a plan that would involve the City of Toledo first taking possession of the IJH property from the State in order to be a financial pass-through entity and the contracting entity for the demolition and any asbestos abatement that may be needed on the property.

Ollendieck said she felt it was unlikely that total demolition of the IJH cottage buildings would cost less than $750,000, which is the figure the State has informally committed to contributing to the project.

Should the City of Toledo be the owner of the property at the time of demolition, Ollendieck said they would be more eligible to apply for additional state funding to cover whatever overage costs are needed.

Ollendieck, who was present to speak on behalf of the State Department of Administrative Services (DAS) and for the City of Toledo, indicated talks with DAS regarding the plan with the City of Toledo had only begun in recent weeks and that the plan had not been publicly presented to the city council as a group.

School board members, citing a desire to see more specific information from the State DAS and the City of Toledo, ultimately voted unanimously to table the issue to a future meeting.

It appears the board is still eyeing a March 2022 special election for the MS bond referendum, though the time remaining to complete the necessary steps to call a special election is dwindling.

Council hears IJH plan

Less than 24 hours after the South Tama School Board meeting adjourned, the City of Toledo held a Special Session with council members, city officials, County Director Ollendieck, School Board President Mandy Lekin and Board Director Elizabeth Dolezal in attendance.

At the Tuesday council meeting Ollendieck presented roughly the same information to the Toledo City Council as was presented to the South Tama School Board.

One interest the City has within the IJH plan is to acquire the several acres of open ground that surrounds the facility for housing development.

Should the IJH school project move forward, Ollendieck and Mayor Brian Sokol said the City would also acquire the open land to the south and east of the IJH buildings to use for housing development.

Questions arose during discussion of how to quickly negotiate where property lines would be drawn for the school’s parcel and the city’s parcel in order to meet the school’s January 14 deadline for election petitions to be filed.

Another concern that was discussed was the informal nature of the demolition funding promised to the City and the school for the project.

The $750,000 discussed with the school in October appears to be coming from the IEDA’s Vacant State Building Demolition Fund that was created in 2019 from funds appropriated by the state legislature through 2022.

For any costs above $750,000 to address issues like asbestos abatement or filling in of the tunnels that run underneath the IJH facility, it is unclear exactly where the funding will come from.

Ollendieck said she’s confident that discussions with state officials leads her to believe additional funding will be available through other state avenues but that it’s unlikely for the state to commit to any of those things on paper.

There were no action items on the Tuesday council meeting agenda but a majority of members in attendance voiced opinions in favor of the plan provided by Ollendieck provided the details could be ironed out to meet the school’s timeline.

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