A potential developer recently approached the city of Manchester about possibly acquiring the house located at 500 North Franklin St., which is locally known as “the old funeral home,” and re-purposing it into a youth center.
After a lengthy three-year grind in the court system, the council acquired ownership of the house for $4,000 in late 2018. Following the purchase, council members were left scratching their heads as to what to do with the new dilemma it presented — what can be done with a structure in such an advanced state of disrepair?
Taking on the mountain of renovations was not an endeavor the council wanted to commit itself to, but at the same time, tearing down such a visible historical building would also not sit well with residents. As for selling it, the council feared if the house was purchased by someone without significant financial backing, the house could be thrown to the wayside again, which likely would have caused the city to go back to court and bring the situation full circle.
But recently, a potential solution presented itself to the council.
“In conversations with Mr. (Craig) Hutton, he is in the process of exploring the development of a non-profit organization to run and operate the center,” the council agenda stated. “As a part of this process, he has reviewed the property with an architect and a number of contractors to develop a cost estimate to bring the property up to code and into compliance.”
In order to develop a more concise estimate of what needs to be done to the property, the council has agreed to let Hutton and crew perform some exploratory work on the house before any sort of a purchase agreement could be drafted. While the council green-lit allowing Hutton to tear back some of the flooring, walls and ceiling, city staff and City Attorney Jim Peters are still in the process of devising a contract which would absolve the city of liability.
In addition, the council also tentatively agreed to provide Hutton with a dumpster at the city’s cost.
Councilman Dean Sherman said when the council decided to go through the process of acquiring the building through the court system, their intention was to keep the building from falling into further disrepair.
“I’m all for working with people to see if this project is feasible,” Sherman said. “The cost of a dumpster is not much when weighed against possibly saving the building.”
Councilmember Mary Ann Poynor agreed that letting Hutton and his crew in to begin light gut work was absolutely the right move, stating the council “would be fools not to.”
But the exact scope of work to getting the building back to being safe for occupancy is currently unknown. What is known, however, is that the building was without heat for several years, which was likely not ideal for the water pipes during Iowa winters.
When asked exactly what would need to be done, City Manager Tim Vick just let out a big sigh.
Mayor Milt Kramer chimed in for Vick, saying there will likely be multiple water problems and issues with the roof.
Vick added that Hutton’s current rough estimate for repairs is hovering around $100,000.
Aside from potential issues with the pipes, the exact extent of issues with the electrical system is unknown until portions of the walls can be opened up and examined.
“The master electrician said the code is the minimum requirements but Tim (Heims, Manchester building official and zoning administrator) has jurisdiction and will need to tell us what city’s requirements would be,” Hutton wrote to the council. “The biggest money cost for the electrical system will be in the basement. I shared with him my plan to gut the entire basement which he said would be great for fixing the electrical issues in the house.”
Hutton said when he was in the house, he also observed water coming through the ceiling and water actually pouring into the garage.
Even with all of the potential headaches, Hutton is looking toward a future where area teens can have a space to thrive.
“I have spoken with a gentleman from the Chicago area and he mentioned we need to take our time to develop our plan so that is a program that will effectively help teens,” Hutton wrote. “He also said because of the positive impact their teen center has had on their community it is a great incentive when new businesses are looking to possibly locate in their town.”
But as for actually implementing the vision, Hutton believes it is going to take a village not only to staff and mentor the youth but to help remodel and fund the house.
“To become a reality, in every sense of the phrase, The House Teen Center will need to be built by the community, for the community. If our youth thrive, our community will thrive,” he wrote, adding The House Board of Directors will be searching for funding from foundations, corporations, churches and individuals, while also anticipating they will generate income from a thrift store, renting of the facility and a three-bedroom apartment on the second and third floors of the house.