Crews have been working at the former Unitarian Church at the corner of 4th and High Streets in Keokuk. City Administrator Aaron Burnett said they are not tearing down the vacant building. Instead, they are removing asbestos from it.
“This is important because if the structure does fail and collapse, then everything has to be treated as hazardous material if there is still asbestos within it,” said Burnett. “So this is an effort to protect the city from future liability should something catastrophic happen to the structure.”
The city declared the former church unsafe to occupy years ago, and then late last year a judge ruled it to be dangerous, granting the city the authority to tear the building down if it so chooses.
Aldermen took a step in that direction in July, voting to move ahead with the demolition of the building. But at their next meeting aldermen delayed awarding contracts for the work in order to allow a man from Des Moines named Reike Plecas to have more time to develop a plan to save the church.
Burnett said aldermen have heard from people in the past who wanted to save the church, only to see those efforts fade away. But he said this opportunity appeared different.
“They did understand that this gentleman has experience and has the ability and financial backing. All of those things to make something happen, so they elected to postpone the awarding of the bids,” said Burnett.
Plecas wrote a letter to the editor in the Daily Gate City newspaper in Keokuk declaring his intentions to save the church.
“Should I be able to sway the city council and the mayor to deed the property to me, I will be more than delighted to immediately re-roof the property within 30 days, privately, and then seek corporate and local donations,” wrote Plecas in the letter. The roof is expected to cost as much as $250,000.
Plecas wrote that his background is in banking and philanthropic organizations. Burnett said he’s spoken on several occasions to Plecas, who plans to address the city council this week regarding the church.
“If the council chooses to, aldermen can wait and allow him to move forward with his plan,” said Burnett. “If they don’t feel it’s sufficient to make a meaningful improvement to the church, then they can move ahead with the demolition bids.”
Burnett said in the meantime, caution tape surrounds the building in the hope that it will deter people from trying to enter an unsafe property.