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Arlington’s School Lives on in the New Community Center

Arlington, IA

Arlington is a rural community of 429 residents located in northeast Iowa. Increasing maintenance costs and declining enrollment forced the closure of the town’s only school in 1985. The structure remained underutilized for over two decades as plans to renovate it into an antique mall never materialized. The property eventually became an uncontrolled dumping ground as tires, appliances, and 55-gallon drums were scattered throughout the property and within the building. Friable asbestos concerns worried local officials as broken windows and a leaking roof exposed the former school to harsh weather conditions.

Arlington School before demo

HR Green completed a Phase I Environmental Site Assessment (ESA) on behalf of the City of Arlington under an Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Brownfields Assessment Grant awarded to Upper Explorerland Regional Planning Commission (UERPC). This work identified several on-site recognized environmental conditions that required further investigation. The report also allowed the City to satisfy its due diligence prior to taking title to the former school. Subsequent soil and groundwater sampling activities completed by HR Green did not identify any contaminants exceeding statewide standards; however, asbestos-containing materials (ACM) and lead-based paint (LBP) were detected in the structure’s building materials.

City officials strongly desired to demolish the former Arlington School and replace it with a source of civic pride. Estimated costs associated with ACM abatement and razing the structure would place serious strain on the City’s limited budget. HR Green assisted the community in identifying state and federal sources of funding to advance the effort.

HR Green’s team successfully authored several applications including a $200,000 EPA Brownfields Cleanup grant and a $50,000 Iowa Department of Economic Development (IDED) Iowa Brownfields Redevelopment Program forgivable loan to offset abatement expenses and a $75,000 Iowa Department of Natural Resources (IDNR) Derelict Buildings Program grant to deconstruct the building.

City staff tasked HR Green with preparing bid specifications, agency coordination, and part-time construction observation for the project. Consistent with the IDNR grant’s goals, 99.6% of materials by total weight was diverted from the local landfill. The approach involved selling individual bricks as a fundraiser, recycling the building’s steel and aluminum, and utilizing the remaining deconstruction materials as clean fill for backfilling the school building excavation site and for Fayette County road projects.

A grassroots effort led by local citizens and alumni thereafter raised enough funds to construct the Arlington Community Center. Opened in 2015, the 8,950 square-foot facility features a gym, fitness room, and meeting rooms. It also serves as a gathering place for weddings, anniversaries, graduations, and family celebrations. The former school site has now become a focal point of Arlington that draws individuals into the town from the surrounding areas.

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