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Council Bluffs
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Vital Infill Project Rejuvenates Family-Friendly Community

The former Walnut Grove Elementary School before demolition begins.

The Walnut Grove Elementary School dutifully served the north side of Council Bluffs for nearly nine decades. After a feasibility study conducted in the early 2010s concluded the building no longer met district standards, the school was closed in 2014. Left to the ravages of Mother Nature, the deteriorating structure could have quickly become a blight concern for the surrounding residential area. Instead, the City of Council Bluffs purchased the vacant building in 2015 with the intention of transforming the city block for residential housing.

First things first, however, required the removal of the old elementary school building. City leaders enlisted the team with Snyder & Associates to create a suitable demolition plan to tear down and remove the structure and the vast concrete parking lot and asphalt playground areas. This required strict adherence to protecting against erosion and pollution in compliance with the Iowa Department of Natural Resources (DNR) NPDES permits and the U.S. Clean Water Act.

Our team also developed a Stormwater Pollution Prevention Plan (SWPPP) to guide the contractor during the demolition phase. The demolition also required site restoration activities that included importing fill material and performing minor grading to restore the existing site topography and drainage patterns in the project zone. As a final detail, we prepared a subdivision plat for the south half of the block to include seven residential lots.

Public-Private “Team” Effort Drives New Residential Subdivision

Example of a standard home constructed in the Walnut Grove Subdivision. Photo Credit: NeighborWorks Home Solutions

With the demolition work completed, the community-based non-profit, NeighborWorks® Home Solutions (NWHS) purchased the remaining northern half of the block. NeighborWorks primary goal is the revitalization of neighborhoods by creating quality housing choices. Their team envisioned the construction of 14 single-family homes on the site of the former school building.

Working with NWHS, the Snyder & Associates team then completed the plans for extending the sanitary sewer system to provide for the entire subdivision. We also prepared the detailed plat plan that divided the northern half of the parcel into seven additional building lots. The plan put in place by NWHS established a public-private partnership that allowed construction technology students from Iowa Western Community College to build two of the homes as part of a service-learning project. To attract families at various income levels, the homes in the subdivision were priced in a broad range, with down-payment assistance available for some buyers.

This type of community-focused effort is difficult to fulfill without the collaboration of numerous entities, and the Walnut Grove Subdivision was no exception. The City of Council Bluffs, local and regional foundations, lending institutions, and educational organizations all played an integral role in this project. This included the securement of a Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) by city leaders. This piece of funding was critical for moving the project forward.

For their work on the Walnut Grove Subdivision, NeighborWorks Home Solutions was awarded the 2021 Housing Iowa Single-Family Development Award in Iowa by the Iowa Finance Authority in the Urban Mixed-Income housing development category.