Supervisors hear plea to restore Ocheyedan school
SIBLEY, Iowa — Tuesday’s Osceola County Board of Supervisors meeting was filled with requests for funding projects and needed equipment. A committee of Sibley-Ocheyedan School Board members,city of Ocheyedan representatives and Osceola County Economic Director Mike Earll also met with the board to present the group’s plan for moving forward on the Ocheyedan school project.
S-O School Board President Susie Bormann explained the Ocheyedan Elementary School building was closed five years ago following a vote by the board, which decided it was in the best financial interest of the district to conduct all classes in the Sibley facility. The move caused a large division between the two communities.
Bormann said the building is still structurally sound. However, a report from an engineer earlier this year suggests the building has two or fewer remaining years of vitality before the deterioration puts the structure beyond repair or restoration.
At their last meeting, Bormann informed the supervisors the school board voted to pay for asbestos removal, but with budget constraints, further development of the property is an impossibility. The district already pays out $20,000 or more annually to keep the building partially heated and insured. The city of Ocheyedan is not able to foot the bill, either.
A developer has expressed interest in renovating the existing building into middle-class apartment buildings. Earll said the classrooms would allow for approximately nine apartments to be constructed, with the possibility of two to three more if they were small.
The plan also calls for the school’s gymnasium to be renovated into a community event center. Earll said the center could hold 350 people comfortably at round tables or accommodate up to 500 if needed. Earll noted the proposed center would be the largest in the county.
Bormann stated that doing something positive with the Ocheyedan building will hopefully heal some of the rift between Sibley and Ocheyedan. She added other districts around the state have sold off abandoned buildings for $1 to be used for storage. She and fellow school board members do not want to see that happen in Ocheyedan. If the building absolutely cannot be repurposed, it will likely be demolished, and the area could become a green space.
A request was then made that the supervisors consider creating an urban renewal plan in Ocheyedan and the townships in the eastern part of the county. Bormann told the supervisors this project would lead to job creation and much-needed rental housing. Earll noted it is sometimes perceived in the community that most tax dollars and development happens in the western half of the county. This could offer an opportunity for cities outside of Sibley to see growth as well. Jayson Vande Hoef, chairman of the Board of Supervisors, asked Earll to bring something the board could take action on to the next meeting.
Hawkeye Point received a grant from the county of up to $15,000 to finish the campground bathroom and sidewalk projects. Members of the Hawkeye Point committee made a presentation to the board at its last meeting requesting financial assistance.