Renovations underway at former St. Patrick’s Catholic Church

Abandoned church to transform into new Tama-Toledo Christian School

The interior of the old Catholic church located at 600 Oswego Street in Tama pictured last Friday. The 1900 building is being renovated as the future home of the new, private K-8 Tama-Toledo Christian School. Those standing in the gutted sanctuary include from left, laborer Eric Ortiz, contractor Eric Slagle with VLS Real Estate, state Rep. Dean Fisher (R-Montour) who heads up the private school’s non-profit board, and Vicki Fisher who also serves on the board alongside her husband. PHOTO BY RUBY F. MCALLISTER

TAMA – A resurrection of sorts is well underway at the old Catholic church in Tama.

For 22 years now the stately brick building located at 600 Oswego Street that was once home to St. Patrick’s Catholic Church has stood empty, slowly deteriorating – but that’s all set to change thanks to the efforts of local contractor Eric Slagle and backers of the newly-formed Tama-Toledo Christian School.

“Right now we’re digging out the basement to reinforce the footings and the floors. We’ve dug out … almost 30 loads (of dirt) out of the basement, and there’s a lot more yet,” Eric Ortiz, a laborer with Slagle’s VLS Real Estate, explained last Friday afternoon as he stood in the center of the building’s gutted interior. A giant hole leading to the basement was visible behind him and save for a few stained glass windows, long gone were most of the elements that made the 124-year-old building a church.

As Ortiz spoke, state Rep. Dean Fisher, a Republican from rural Montour, and his wife Vicki Fisher listened. The Fishers are two of six board members steering the planting of the new private, K-8 Tama-Toledo Christian School.

Back in February, the school’s non-profit board inked a lease agreement with Slagle for the building. Slagle himself was scheduled to close on the property – along with his brother-in-law Brad Dolmage and their respective spouses – this past week with the former owners, Plum Family Buildings LLC.

State Rep. Dean Fisher, left, looks over blueprints last Friday for Tama-Toledo Christian School alongside contractor Eric Slagle of VLS Real Estate, center, and laborer Eric Ortiz. The school is being built inside the former St. Patrick’s Catholic Church building located at 600 Oswego Street in Tama. Once renovations are complete by May of 2025, the building will increase from 6,700 square feet of space to 9,700 square feet. The school plans to open in August of 2025. PHOTO BY RUBY F. MCALLISTER

While Ortiz began demolition work in January of this year, Slagle’s history with the building stretches back to at least 2022 when he approached the City of Tama with a proposal to convert the vacant former church into much-needed housing through a federal disaster recovery Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) made available following the 2020 derecho.

Unfortunately, Tama County did not receive any funding, Slagle said, and the building remained in limbo.

“I was trying to make it into apartments,” Slagle explained. “I’d already done some work so I kind of wanted to find a use for it, and we were still aiming for apartments.”

Then, last September, Slagle was contacted by Rep. Fisher’s brother about a possible use for the building – a new, private Christian school. At that point, Slagle said he was still operating in the “maybe-apartment stage,” but was more “lukewarm” than anything on the prospect.

An agreement was quickly brokered.

One of seven stained glass windows that will be salvaged for use in the new school. PHOTO BY RUBY F. MCALLISTER

Despite the building being a church, the renovation work has not been too out of the ordinary for Slagle who has experience converting both a former mortuary and a former bank into housing.

“It’s a little bit bigger than a house (build) – little bit more extensive, mainly because of the square footage. … It’s like building three houses, for comparison.”

Currently the building is roughly 6,700 square feet of space, but will jump to 9,700 square feet once the renovations are complete which include the addition of a second floor. A playground will be built in the empty green space north of the building.

Slagle said most of the demolition work is done and now he’s just waiting for approval from the State Fire Marshal’s office for the school’s architectural designs.

While much of the conversation and press coverage surrounding the Tama-Toledo Christian School has been focused on private school vouchers funded by the state’s coffers, Slagle said the bigger story locally has been the resurrection of the building – especially among those who remember attending Mass there before the new church opened on Park Street some two decades ago.

Contractor Eric Slagle pictured on Friday, April 12, inside the former St. Patrick's Catholic Church in Tama. Slagle's construction company is working to renovate the vacant church building for the new Tama-Toledo Christian School. PHOTO BY RUBY F. MCALLISTER

“I’m Catholic. They’re very excited. We get a lot of compliments.”

To that end, several of the church’s former attributes are being preserved for use in the new non-denominational school including seven of the stained glass windows which will be installed along the building’s south wall, the church bell, and the railing from the choir loft. The elevated chancel (sanctuary) will also be preserved for use as a student chapel/worship area.

Slagle said the City of Tama is on board with the plans as well.

“The city is really excited about it because this building wasn’t far from being (deemed) a nuisance.”

Renovation work is slated to finish by May of 2025 after which the Tama-Toledo Christian School’s non-profit will take possession through a lease purchase agreement.


In the meantime, the school’s board has been working to raise capital including through a fundraising dinner set for next Friday, April 26, at Toledo’s Reinig Center from 5:30-7 p.m. Iowa Premium is providing roast beef for the meal.

The board is also continuing to field enrollment interest, Rep. Fisher said.

“I think we’re going to start pre-enrollment pretty soon, certainly by this fall if not this summer.”

And while the goal is still a K-8 school, Rep. Fisher said the board may decide to serve K-5 initially.

“Ultimately we want to be K-8. The first two or three years, we may be [kindergarten] through [fifth grade] … and then add a class a year. But, we’ll see. It kind of depends on how the enrollment numbers look.”

Green space north of the church which will be transformed into a playground for the new private, K-8 Tama-Toledo Christian School which is slated to open in August 2025. PHOTO BY RUBY F. MCALLISTER

When asked to comment on his own personal motivation for planting a private, Christian school in Tama County, Rep. Fisher — a South Tama County alumnus — said it comes down to his Christian faith.

“There’s a lot of reasons. I think there’s just a lot of people who want a Christian education for their child. And I see the Christian Church – it’s dwindling in America – and if we don’t do something, this being one of the things, to try and bring our Christian faith back up, we’re going to lose it. So by bringing these kids up surrounded with the teachings of the Bible (and) Christ’s love, hopefully that will just help spur a stronger faith tradition here in the South Tama (County) area.”

Rep. Fisher said the board is planning on implementing a rigorous academic program at the school as well.

“Hopefully we’ll do better [than the public school] with more individualized [curriculum], more attention being a smaller school. We certainly hope our academics are stronger. … Strong academics, strong faith.”

One family that plans to enroll their children as soon as registration opens is Eric Slagle himself. He and his wife Dr. Christa Slagle reside on an acreage in Poweshiek County and currently open enroll their children at South Tama County.


“All three of my kids are going to go here. I already got 10 percent of the first year covered,” Slagle said, drawing a chuckle from Rep. Fisher.

Step by step the process continues to bring life back to the old church on Oswego Street.

More information about the Tama-Toledo Christian School can be found on the non-profit’s Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=61553948104652