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Marion High School students will get the chance to renovate houses through new program

City, MEDCO and school district partner to revitalize neighborhoods, provide learning experience for students

Students in Marion High School's building and trades class in 2018 work on building a new home. The Marion Independent S
Students in Marion High School’s building and trades class in 2018 work on building a new home. The Marion Independent School District is partnering with the city of Marion and Marion Economic Development Corporation to begin a program that will have students renovating dilapidated housing in Marion and then offering it for sale. (Photo from MEDCO)

MARION — As a part of a building and trades class, Marion High School students will start renovating houses in deteriorating neighborhoods, thereby gaining experience in the trades and also attracting people to live in the Marion Independent School District.

The Marion City Council last week approved a 28(e) intergovernmental agreement between the city of Marion, Marion Economic Development Corporation and the Marion Independent School District to buy dilapidated houses, restore them and sell them through the Community Promise Home Rehabilitation Program.

“We know there’s some neighborhoods that need a spark to be lit, ... They might be older neighborhoods that have a few rundown properties,” MEDCO President Nick Glew said. “We’d love to find a home where it’s not just that home we’re investing in, but we’re inspiring other people in those neighborhoods to also make improvements to their properties.”

Through the program, students will learn how to do home renovations and also learn about buying property, planning a project, budgeting, doing home inspections and then learning how real estate sales work.

“This program is a beautiful example of community partners working together,” Glew said. “We hope through it all we find some next-generation workers who are students today who are passionate about the many careers infused in these projects.”

Glew said he hopes to have the first house bought this summer for students to start working on it in the fall.

The 28(e) agreement creates an advisory committee with two representatives each from the city of Marion, MEDCO and the school district. The committee will be responsible for creating policies for buying houses and deciding how much money is spent on renovations.

MEDCO will buy the houses with a revolving loan fund.

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Glew said the program has about $110,000 to acquire the first property. The money was given to MEDCO a decade ago and has been used for loans to businesses. But with small businesses having better access to loans, there has been little interest in the fund lately, Glew said.

Officials hope the first renovated property can sell for between $165,000 to $185,000, which then can be invested in the next house.

The city will provide funding for renovations — between $45,000 and $55,000 per home — from a low- to moderate-income fund. City Manager Lon Pluckhahn said.

Glew expects the program to increase property values in neighborhoods and hopes it will be an inspiration to residents to invest a little “TLC” — tender loving care — in their own homes.

MEDCO’s board of directors will vote on the 28(e) agreement later this month.

The Marion Independent School District, which is landlocked with no room to build new houses within the district, will benefit from older houses being renovated, school Superintendent Janelle Brouwer said.

“Any time we can improve property within the district, it improves property values and has a positive impact on our tax base, which funds our district,” Brouwer said. “Quite frankly, when there’s nicer homes available in a community, it attracts people to live there.”

The teacher of the building and trades program, Dennis Fleege, will act as general contractor for the projects.

Marion High School’s building and trades students have built homes from the ground up in the past, but they have never done a renovation.

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“We’ve had students who choose to be there (on work sites) after school and on weekends, working as much as the teacher allows them to,” Brouwer said. “It’s a pretty motivated, hands-on, engaged type of learning.”

About 15 to 20 students will participate. Linn-Mar High School students also will be eligible to participate.

The agreement is on the Marion Independent school board agenda April 20.

During the Marion City Council meeting, Mayor Nick AbouAssaly said he is excited for the project and to see the results.

City council member Rene Gadelha said she loves the idea.

“I think it’s a great example of public-public-public coming together for the greater good,” she said.

City council member Will Brandt, a real estate agent, abstained from discussion and voting.

Comments: (319) 368-8664; grace.king@thegazette.com

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