Board approves option on FD middle schools

Fair Oaks and Phillips middle schools are on their way to becoming housing.

The Fort Dodge Community School District board Monday approved an option to Foutch Brothers LLC of Kansas City, Mo., to purchase both buildings for $1 to be developed into apartments. This plan, Doug Van Zyl, FDCSD superintendent, said, would release the district from its liability while also preventing the two buildings from being demolished, which has long been the district’s aim for the now-defunct schools.

The board also approved selling to Holy Trinity Parish the Phillips gymnasium and track for $362,000 if the option is exercised. If the option is not exercised, however, Holy Trinity will pay $75,000 for the gym and track and $650,000 in escrow for the demolition of Phillips.

The option expires Dec. 17. The district still retains both buildings.

Fort Dodge citizen Lorraine Martin voiced her concern about not knowing what kind of housing the schools would be made into, and its impact.

“My concerns are for the neighborhood. What is parking going to be like?” Martin said. “I’m just concerned our neighborhoods will change for the worse. That’s my concern, that our neighborhood will go downhill.”

Shawn Foutch, co-owner of Foutch Brothers, said he was “thrilled about these projects” and explained their vision for the buildings. Phillips would become market-rate apartments, with no low-income component, while Fair Oaks would possibly become low-income senior housing.

“We have some preliminary designs underway already, because some of the time frames we have to meet are pretty tough,” Foutch said.

Phillips, Foutch explained, would have seven studio apartments, up to 16 one-bedroom apartments and up to 13 two- or three-bedroom apartments, with rents in the range of $550 to more than $1,000 a month.

“We’re very well aware that to rent an apartment in any Iowa community for over $1,000 a month means it has to be a nice apartment,” he said. “So those are our goals.”

While Fair Oaks is in discussion to becoming low-income senior housing, that is not the case with Phillips.

“We’ve had some preliminary discussions with the city and they agree with us that low-income housing is not appropriate at the Phillips school,” he said. “Because its not consistent with what the city’s plans are for the neighborhood.”

Both projects will be nominated for and must be eligible for the National Register of Historic Places, a significant source of funding, Foutch said.

“Other sources of funding may include city, county and state funds, and if the one project does go low-income housing there are some state and federal funds for that,” he said. “It’s needed in order to cover the construction costs and be left with rental values that are affordable.”

The option, Foutch explained, is because there is “much work that needs to be done” before the company can take possession of the buildings.

The board unanimously approved the option to Foutch.

However, board members Bill Kent and Deb Peterson voted against a second motion to sell to Holy Trinity if the option is not elected. Kent explained that he did not want to see the building demolished, and argued the district should keep the building and work with Foutch for as long as it takes so it is not destroyed.

“I am concerned with zoning issues and other things they don’t control, that date could be missed. If we sell the building, there is the possibility that Phillips will eventually be demolished,” Kent said. “As for the Phillips gym and field, I believe it’s an attractive asset to the district. I believe there are many groups that can use the wrestling room, the gym and the field.”

Stuart Cochrane supported the motion, citing the income it would bring the district.

“In this day and age, of looking at dollars to make a difference in what we can do as a district, I think those dollars matter,” he said. “I appreciate the fact that we have ongoing needs. I believe that through the new middle school and the facilities we’ll be providing that we are going to take steps to address those concerns.”