Superintendent Smith pens open letter to Gov. Reynolds
South Tama Superintendent Jared Smith published an open letter to Gov. Kim Reynolds that requested state disaster aid and financial assistance for the middle school building that sustained major damage during the August 10 derecho.
The letter was released on Smith’s personal blog and shared to the South Tama County School District Facebook page Friday morning but has not been officially sent to the Governor’s office.
The idea to write the letter came after Smith had conversations with different individuals about the next steps with the middle school.
“My plan was to gauge community reaction from the social media posts before writing a formal letter to the governor. Thus far, the community reaction has been incredibly positive,” Smith said.
“I woke up yesterday morning and felt compelled to put something in writing to bring attention to our situation here in Tama-Toledo. I believe it is my responsibility to do what is best for kids, and believe this request would be huge for our community,” Smith said.
Ideally Smith is looking for the State to pay for the cost of a new middle school.
“While this is a large demand, I do believe the circumstances are appropriate for such a request,” Smith said.
Adjustors, engineers, and architects have all been through the building. However, Smith does not expect to have a full damage assessment or repair estimate until the end of September.
“We are willing to explore any options at this time for how to utilize insurance money that is recovered from middle school damages,” said Smith.
Smith said the same in regards to the role FEMA could play.
“We are currently exploring these options, trying to determine what our district would be eligible to receive,” Smith said.
For now the school is utilizing local spaces in the community to house students.
For the first quarter 6-8th graders will be distance learning at home. Preschool is moving from the Elementary building to St. Pat’s Catholic Church and 5th grade is moving into the preschool pod at the Elementary. 6-8th grade are slated to move into the Partnership Center building for the second quarter of the first semester.
The 105 year old middle school building sustained significant roof damage and water intrusion due to the August 10 derecho.
This is the second natural disaster the building has experienced in the past two years. A boiler room fire occurred in the summer of 2019 a few weeks before the start of the school year.
In early 2020 a $20.8 million bond vote to build a new middle school facility south of the STC High School failed. The March 2020 bond vote received 53% approval falling short of the 60% needed.
State Rep. Dean Fisher said discussions have been ongoing between Superintendent Smith, DHS, Economic Development and the Governors Office for about a week.
“I’ll try and help push for a solution however I can,” said Fisher.
Read letter here:
Letter to the Governor
Dear Governor Reynolds,
My name is Jared Smith and I am the Superintendent for the South Tama County School District.
I want to start by saying thank you for visiting the Tama-Toledo community on Monday, August 17th. During your visit, you had a firsthand opportunity to witness the devastating aftermath of the derecho storm. Like many other Iowa communities, it will take years for our residents to recover.
The purpose of this letter to ask that you consider providing our district with financial assistance to rebuild our badly-damaged middle school.
I realize we are not alone in our request as you will certainly receive countless applications for assistance in the coming weeks. However, I believe we have a compelling case as to why this request rises to the top. I hope you will consider the information below.
I had a chance to visit our battered middle school shortly after the storm.
The wreckage was stunning. Room after room experienced significant damage. Ceiling tiles littered the floor. Hallways and stairs were covered in sludge. While we have not received a final number, early indications are that damages will total several million dollars.
Our district is making things work as we search for answers. We are packing 6th – 8th grade students into a dilapidated building built during the Roosevelt era. To make room for our 5th grade students, preschool students are being displaced into Sunday School classrooms at a local church.
Clearly, this arrangement is not a long-term solution.
When I visited Iowa Disaster Recovery website I saw a page full of photos from our community. From Mid Iowa Cooperative to South Tama County Middle School to Thys Automotive Dealership, the front-page is full our images from the Tama-Toledo community.
While photos alone should not sway your opinion, I bring this to your attention because all three structures are landmarks in our small community. Those landmarks have been reduced to rubble and debris.
In addition to those properties, the combination of storm and pandemic has hit our community hard. In the last few weeks alone, we have see two of our most celebrated restaurants – Big T Maid Rite Diner in Toledo and King Tower Cafe in Tama – close their doors. Beyond small business, area farmers and local homeowners have also be devastated by our current situation.
The Tama-Toledo community is hurting and we need your help.
I realize I am not the only leader who will call upon your office for assistance. However, there are two factors making our situation unique.
First, the middle school was in poor condition even before the storm. Originally opened in 1915, the current middle school first opened its doors to students during the middle of World War I. While the condition of the building isn’t your issue, please understand without financial assistance we will have no choice but to force our students back into this outdated building.
Second, and more importantly, there is a piece of state-owned property that could make an ideal middle school. The former Iowa Juvenile Home in Toledo has sat empty since 2014. I am aware the State has tried to unload the property for years without luck. A quick Google search of “Iowa Juvenile Home” speaks to the marred history of the now-abandoned campus.
Our district has explored options for the building. We have completed countless tours and assessments of the campus, attempting to determine how our district could adapt the building to meet our needs. Unfortunately, the hight costs of renovation have always prevented us from moving forward.
Your office is in a unique position where you have the opportunity to fund disaster recovery projects around the state. By funding our middle school project, you have a chance to rescue a community hit hardest by the storm, as well as provide a solution to one of your own lingering headaches.
I want to be clear this letter is not meant to be political in nature. This request would be written to any governor regardless of political affiliation. I greatly appreciate what you and all policymakers – on both sides of the isle – do for Iowans. I am very happy focusing my energy on our community, while allowing elected officials run our government.
I want to thank you for taking time to read this letter, and for assisting Iowans through these difficult times. I am hopeful to hear from you so we can discuss an idea that will be a “win” for everyone.
Dr. Jared Smith
South Tama County Superintendent