The Ottumwa Courier

March 12, 2014

Wapello building remains county property

By WANDA MOELLER
Courier Editor

---- — OTTUMWA — An option to sell the Wapello building in downtown Ottumwa to River Hills Community Health Center was nixed by the Wapello County Board of Supervisors Tuesday evening.

On March 5, River Hills Community Health Center CEO Richard Johnson wrote a formal letter to the county board expressing its renewed interest in purchasing the Wapello Building to renovate it for its clinic operations. Their renewed interest came after a bank loan was not approved for a single site clinic on Hutchinson Avenue in Ottumwa.

“Although we are still investigating other alternative funding options,” Johnson wrote, “the River Hills Board of Directors wanted me to explore whether the Wapello County Board of Supervisors would be willing to revisit selling the Wapello Building to River Hills CHC. This was the original plan two years ago when we submitted our grant application to HRSA.”

If the board had approved the plan, River Hills CHC would have been able to combine all three locations in Ottumwa into one single location while remaining in downtown Ottumwa.

One of the big hurdles facing the River Hills CHC is it is running out of time to collect and spend its grant funds.

“Although our $5 million construction grant is a three-year grant which technically ends on April 30, 2015, HRSA is willing to allow us to go out until April 30, 2017, to have the project totally finished,” wrote Johnson in this inquiry letter.

Johnson suggested the “aggressive time frame would require Wapello County to have an alternative building purchased as soon as possible, such as the former ECONO Foods Grocery Store.”

Under that scenario, the county would have up to two years to renovate the site and move its employees and Department of Human Services staff into its new facilities by 2016, thus giving River Hills about a year to renovate the Wapello Building and move all of its staff into the building by 2017. A decision was needed from the board by Wednesday, March 19.

However, all three county supervisors agreed the current time frame was too aggressive for an immediate sale.

“I don’t think we could locate somewhere else that fast,” said County Board Chairman Jerry Parker. “We’d have to find another piece of property, build or renovate it and move our people into it in two years. That would leave only one year on their grant to do the renovation. I understand they need an answer, but I don’t think we can comply.”

Supervisor Greg Kenning concurred. “We’d have to find a place where we can get all of our departments and everyone under the same roof.”

After a bit discussion, supervisors agreed to send a letter to River Hills CHC telling them of the county’s decision not to sell the Wapello building.