The Vinton City council has given its unanimous consent to work with the husband and wife team of Jim and B.J. Hobart, owners of Hobart Historic Restoration, on turning much of the Iowa Braille and Sight Saving School campus into a variety of housing units as well as a possible community center.

During a special meeting last night, the council met with the Hobarts as well as member of the ad hoc committee that has been reviewing options for the IBSSS campus for the past year.

Vinton Unlimited Director Melissa Schwan told the council at the beginning of the meeting that the committee was asking for “permission to proceed,” but not any specific resolution or binding contract.

The basics of the plan include:

  • Continuing to lease the areas that AmeriCorps NCCC is using to that entity;
  • Turning buildings not used by Americorps into housing areas, which could include senior housing, market-rate rentals, and/or apartments.
  • Transforming the barn into a community center and the former hospital building into possibly a wine bar.
  • Leaving the gym/pool/rec center building under the control of the Vinton Parks and Recreation Department, which would find ways to make the pool and other areas available for more public use.
  • Leaving the Mary Ingalls museum in its location in Old Main.

Vinton Mayor Bud Maynard said the Hobarts’ plan is “quite a vision.”

“I am pretty excited about it,” said Maynard, who said that a year ago, he was one of the “nay-sayers” who thought the city would not find a way to take over the IBSSS campus from the Regents.

The Mayor said he has toured a building the Hobarts have renovated and was impressed with its quality as well as how the building retained its historic character. He also thanked the ad hoc committee members for their long work on the project.

“They spent a lot of time and did a lot of great things,” he added.

B.J Hobart told the council she has loved the Old Main building since she first saw it 20 years ago, and said it’s “exciting” to have the chance to renovate the campus. The couple is beginning with the assumption that AmeriCorps will remain on the campus but would also be “very comfortable” proceeding without that lease.

The Hobarts told the council their company has approximately 20 employees, including two sons who lead its plumbing and carpentry projects.

The process would start with the city purchasing the property from the Iowa Board of Regents for $1, and then selling it to the Hobarts for the same price.

City Manager Chris Ward said he and City Attorney Robert Fischer have been reviewing the legal options for transferring the property from the city to Hobart.

“How do we sell this property to Hobart Historic Restoration for $1? There is a way to do that – a legal way we can do it, but it’s never been done before,” Ward explained.

Council member Brian Parr said, “I see no reason not to move forward.” The rest of the council members agreed.

Schwan told the council that their consent means that “We keep plugging away, and begin putting agreements together.”

The committee has divided the property into four areas.

The North Area includes Old Main and the other buildings. The West Area is the grassy area along Highway 218 and the barn. The South Campus Area includes the green space along 13th Street as well as the track. The South Area refers to Kiwanis Park.

While some of the residents attending the meeting did so out of concern for the future of the park, that area was not part of the discussion. The Hobarts renovation plan discussed on Thursday includes only the West and North areas.