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Braille School property offered

This map shows the Iowa Braille and Sight Saving School property offered for sale for one dollar. At the bottom is Kiwanis Park.

VINTON – Hopes that the City of Vinton may soon own the Iowa Braille and Sight Saving School might be premature.

The Iowa Board of Regents meets next Wednesday and Thursday with the Braille School as one of the many topics of discussion.

According to the board’s agenda, action is requested to “authorize the Executive Director to take all actions necessary, including the execution of an agreement for the sale of the Iowa Braille and Sight Saving School (IBSSS) campus to the City of Vinton for $1.”

The property includes 48 acres and 11 buildings.

However, approval of that action by the Board of Regents (BOR) does not guarantee that a sale to Vinton will happen quickly, if at all.

“We are aware of an article printed in Wednesday’s CR Gazette that speaks about the potential sale of the IBSSS campus,” the Braille School Committee said in a written statement. “The article highlights that the BOR is working to finalize items needed on their end to make the sale possible when the time is right.

“At this time, the City of Vinton has not committed to purchasing any portion of the IBSSS campus. The IBSSS Committee continues to work on the pieces that could make this large puzzle work.

“Ultimately, the decision to purchase the IBSSS campus will be decided by the Vinton City Council in the months ahead.”

The prospect of the City of Vinton taking ownership of the Braille School property for the price of one dollar came in 2016.

With the property costing the Board of Regents hundreds of thousands of dollars in maintenance costs each year, Vinton officials began researching the possible future uses of the Braille School property to generate revenue to make a deal feasible. During that same time period, the Board of Regents offered the building to the Iowa Law Enforcement Academy and the Iowa Department.

Established in 1852, the “Iowa College for the Blind” started in Keokuk for four blind students 167 years ago, and then moved to Vinton in 1862. After 157 years in Vinton, the Board Office is requesting Board approval to sell IBSSS to the City of Vinton for $1. Sale of the property is contingent upon successful assignment of the AmeriCorps lease to the City of Vinton, and the Federal Government’s acceptance and acknowledgement of the assignment. While IBSSS’s highest reported attendance was 208 students in 1896, its attendance declined 87 percent from 119 students in 1972 to 16 students in 2008. To offset the associated decline in revenue, the Board of Regents successfully started leasing 60% of the IBSSS campus in 2008 to the Federal Government as a regional site for AmeriCorps. After 11 continuous years of leasing, AmeriCorps renewed their lease in 2019 for 10 more years.In 2016, the Board Office began working with representatives of the City of Vinton on a proposal to sell the IBSSS campus to the City of Vinton for $1. Since then, the Board Office, the City of Vinton and IBSSS have worked collaboratively toward a successful property sale. Also during this time, the Board Office reached out to other government agencies. For example in October 2016, the Iowa Department of Administrative Services (DAS) and Iowa Law Enforcement Academy (ILEA) toured IBSSS’s facilities, but found that it did not meet the future needs of either agency.

Timeline:

• 1852: IBSSS established as the “Iowa College for the Blind” in Keokuk for four blind students.

• 1858: IBSSS moved to Vinton.

• 1862: Old Main was opened, 24 blind students enrolled.

• 2008: AmeriCorps lease #1 was established for five years.

• 2011: IBSSS students started attending Iowa’s public schools.

• 2011: Straight-line winds tore off Old Main’s roof, caused over $6 million in campus damage

• 2013: AmeriCorps lease #2 for five more years• 2016: Board approved a 10-year lease extension of the Kiwanis Park to the City of Vinton.

• 2018: AmeriCorps lease #3 for one more year in preparation of the property sale

• 2019: AmeriCorps lease #4 for 10 more years (June 10, 2019 to June 9, 2029)

• 2019: Board Office requested Board approval to sell the IBSSS to the City of Vinton