Historic Preservation Commission meets to discuss planned demolition of historic church

OTTUMWA, Iowa (KYOU) – On Wednesday night we heard dialogue about the demolition of a familiar building in the town of Ottumwa: the former Wesley United Methodist Church. The Ottumwa Historic Preservation Committee held a public meeting to discuss recent plans to demolish the church.

In early August, the Ottumwa Community School District Board approved plans to remove the church and renovate the grounds to expand the parking lot for Ottumwa high school students. Frase Company Rentals, the current owner of the property, will demolish the building and prepare the site, turning it into what the school district’s financial director calls a “clean slab.” John Berg notes that Frase’s preparation will include “the costs of asbestos removal, demolition, then filling and leveling the appropriate site.”

Then the district will buy the property for $ 528,000 and begin renovations. The money for the purchase of the property comes from the PPEL funds, with the parking lot renovations paid for from the sales tax fund. Superintendent Mike McGrory says parking is a need for high school.

The measure was adopted by the school board by 6 votes to 1.

These plans brought Superintendent Mike McGrory before the Historic Preservation Commission. While demolition is already planned, some members of the commission expressed regret at seeing a historic building collapse. President Dennis Willhoit noted that he would probably never “agree to this decision – never – to raze the building”. He described the church as “a historic property, of local significance, [that] is in a very important place. Member Cara Galloway asked owner Jeremy Frase if he had ever intended to restore the church, “or did you buy it just to overturn it?”

However, Superintendent McGrory observed that the building had been in decline for some time before the district searched for a parking lot. “It was for the most part non-functional, and it was … our concern that it was a building that would become very dilapidated.”

The church has never been designated as official historic property, like many historic buildings across Ottumwa. In this case, nothing prevents the private owner – in this case Jeremy Frase – from renovating a historic building, or in this case, destroying it.

Commission chairman Dennis Willhoit lamented the loss of historic buildings around Ottumwa, such as the building that once stood at the current location of the 2nd Street parking lot. He described historic sites as places that have unique stories for each member of the community. “We lost a lot of these stories in Ottumwa. And it is very unfortunate.

“If this was considered historic property then I think it would be a different situation,” replied Superintendent McGrory.

Frase says the church demolition should be completed by Christmas and the parking lot should be ready by the start of the 2022 school year.

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