A vacant, century-old bank building in McCausland could have been left to further deteriorate or meet the wrecking ball had it not been for a state grant program and a community's determination.
Built in 1916, the former McCausland Savings Bank was the city's last remaining original commercial building when its residents decided to reinvent it into its city hall. In November, after a three-year renovation, city staff moved in, though some cosmetic work remains.
"We've moved up into the 21st century," said City Clerk Sheila Bosworth, whose previous office had been a closet in the community center/fire station across the street. "The people in town decided we wanted to save the building rather than tear it down."
She credits the Iowa Department of Natural Resources', or DNR, Derelict Building Grant program with helping kick-start the community project — providing $14,000 for critical exterior work to shore up the building. In addition, the project benefited from a $15,000 Riverboat Development Authority grant.
"Small towns, their budgets are just really tight. Luckily we’ve managed money well, but not to take on that (size) project," she said, adding that the city invested its own funds over three years. McCausland has a population of 313, according to 2016 Census estimates.
Scott Flagg, manager of the DNR's Derelict Building Grant Program, said the McCausland project is one of many success stories developing from the grant program. The program, which funds $400,000 in projects each year, was created by the Iowa Legislature in response to increasing requests from Iowa's small towns for assistance in dealing with abandoned, derelict buildings.
"These are commercial properties usually sitting on Main Street," he said. "As populations dwindle, revenues for the town do too, leaving communities with few resources to take care of such buildings. With some of these buildings, there is no one there to maintain them." Flagg said funding can be used to help renovate a vacant building or deconstruct it.
Flagg said many of the buildings become a blight and a fire hazard, and can pose other health and safety issues from asbestos, unstable construction, and attracting vandals and unwanted visitors, particularly curious children.
The program is available for projects in any of the estimated 870 rural Iowa towns with populations of fewer than 5,000 residents, he said.
The program is funded by the DNR's Solid Waste Alternatives Program, as it also emphasizes landfill diversion by requiring each project to recycle or re-use some of the building materials.
The 2019 round of funding is open through Thursday, Feb. 21. For more information or an application, contact Flagg at 515-725-8318 or Scott.Flagg@dnr.iowa.gov.
Flagg, a DNR environmental specialist, said the goal is to "divert as much material from the landfill and address those buildings with asbestos."
On average, funded projects have diverted nearly 90 percent of the construction and demolition material, including brick, wood, concrete and scrap metal.
Across Iowa, communities have revived commercial buildings sometimes for new uses as well as deconstructed buildings to allow for other developments.
Flagg added the program works with the Iowa Waste Exchange to help match some of the waste with companies that can re-use it. "There have been some really imaginative uses," he said. "Farmers are big supporters of the program. They want brick to help them with erosion issues."
In McCausland, Bosworth said the old brick and stone removed during renovations were provided to an area farmer as clean fill while the old rubber roofing was salvaged to patch McCausland's sewer lagoons.
In addition to the grants, Bosworth said the community joined the effort offering a variety of in-kind donations including labor for the burnished flooring, paint sandblasting on the vault doors, plastering, painting and clean out. Renovations included a complete interior remodeling with new electrical, heating and cooling systems as well as a new roof and brick facing.
The new space now has office space for city officials, an area for two computers for public use, a community meeting space and a heated vestibule where residents can drop off bills after-hours or children can wait for the school bus.
In addition, the original vault is "storage for all the clerk records we have to keep or safe storage for a tornado," she said.
The project even returned the original table used by the first city council to city hall. The council chambers remained at the community center.
"It's a cool building and they designed it to feel like an old bank," Bosworth said. "We're very proud of it."