By MARK NEWMAN
Courier staff writer
---- — OTTUMWA — Most people getting services at the Southern Iowa Economic Development Agency's newly renovated Community Action building won't have far to go from the current SIEDA location.
"It's just one building over," said Brian Dunn, executive director of the agency, which oversees such diverse programs as heating assistance for those in poverty to the Head Start program for early childhood learning.
That close proximity wasn't a requirement of the move, but it is nice, Dunn said. The SIEDA board has spent the last couple of years seeking a new place that would be a wise investment, have a lot of parking and provide a good work environment. The answer to their quest is at 310 West Main St., the former Iowa Workforce center, which many residents call "the old unemployment office" downtown.
Dunn and several staff members were at the new office on Monday, carrying in office furniture.
"Buying this building will allow us to invest more money in programs, rather than in overhead," Dunn said.
SIEDA leadership has decided that three out of four programs will be housed at the new 310 W. Main St. building while Behavioral Health and Treatment services will remain at the old 226 W. Main St. location. Head Start Preschool will remain at their current locations.
They're calling it the new Wapello Resource Center. That's the place for Child Development office workers, Family Support Services and Housing Stabilization.
As a nonprofit agency, there are restrictions about purchasing property. But even with those rules in place, it was still more economical for SIEDA to buy their own place as opposed to renting. That's both in the long term, and in the short term: Paying a mortgage will cost less than renting so much downtown space. While decisions have to be made by the people with boots on the ground at the time, Dunn said he's aware that if the agency had purchased a building years ago, they'd own it now.
Dunn said the agency "has a great relationship with the owner of their longtime location," and will, in fact, still be renting one full floor plus an office there. But he and the board felt owning space made sense.
"We've been renting for 50 years," Dunn said.
The new building has dedicated parking that can accommodate staff and clients, with any overage going to plentiful on-street parking. It has access to public transportation, too.
"We wanted to create a space that was professional and inviting, without being extravagant," Dunn said.
For example, while the wall coverings at the new place were not what staff really wanted, stripping it and hanging wall paper would have been an extra expense. Instead, SIEDA found a business that came in and professionally cleaned the old wall coverings. The old walls look so good, Dunn said, "we don't even have to paint."
Construction started in October, and should be completed this month. They're scheduled to be open and fully operational Dec. 30. Staff, said the director, has been going above and beyond, making certain services continue even as they pack; they'll continue providing services in a few weeks as they unpack.
Total cost for the building and the renovations are around $600,000.
— To follow reporter Mark Newman on Twitter, see @CourierMark