Nearly 160 years after 24 students started attending the “Iowa College for the Blind” in a 70,000-square-foot space in Vinton, the Iowa Board of Regents is selling that aging space — along with 10 other buildings that over time became part of its campus — to the city of Vinton for $1.
Regents next week are expected to authorize board Executive Director Mark Braun to execute a deal to essentially transfer ownership of what became the Iowa Braille and Sight Saving School’s 48-acre campus to Vinton.
The aging campus, which includes nearly 200,000 gross square feet of building space, has cost the board millions over the years in upkeep and maintenance expenses — which continued to mount even after the regents closed the school’s residential program in Vinton in 2011. That year, winds tore the roof off the main building, causing more than $6 million in damage.
Today, students receive specialized services for vision loss by specialists at local schools.
The school’s attendance at its peak reached 208 in 1896 but declined 87 percent from 119 students in 1972 to 16 students in 2008, according to regents documents. To offset the resulting decline in revenue, the regents in 2008 began leasing 60 percent of the Vinton campus to the federal government as a regional site for its AmeriCorps program.
Continuing 11 straight years of leasing, AmeriCorps earlier this year renewed its lease for another decade. Sale of the property to Vinton is contingent upon the successful assignment of that lease to the city, and the government’s acceptance and acknowledgment of that assignment, according to the board.
Regents began working with the city for the low-dollar sale — amounting to a gift or ownership transfer — in 2016. Since that time, the board office has reached out to other government agencies — like the Iowa Department of Administrative Services and Iowa Law Enforcement Academy — but the agencies found the campus didn’t meet their projected needs, according to board documents.
“The City of Vinton will be able to make use of the property, and we felt a nominal fee was appropriate for the transfer,” regents spokesman Josh Lehman said.
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As part of the board’s ongoing negotiations to transfer the campus to the city, the regents achieved a 14 percent decrease in overall deferred maintenance expenses “due to a complete reassessment of deferred maintenance,” according to an earlier board report on facilities.
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