Reynolds hears vaccine, housing needs in Toledo

Gov. Kim Reynolds talks with Rep. Dean Fisher and Toledo Mayor Brian Sokol Friday morning at a Tama County Vaccine Clinic in Toledo. Allison Graham/News Chronicle

Gov. Kim Reynolds visited Tama County’s vaccine clinic Friday morning and heard about the needs for more vaccinations in Tama County and more housing in Toledo.

City and state officials met Reynolds at the former Iowa Juvenile Home where Tama County Public Health has been holding vaccination clinics since February.

Tama County Public Health Director, Shannon Zoffka gave Reynolds a tour of the operation. Zoffka also had the opportunity to share with Reynolds the need that still exists in Tama County for more doses of COVID-19 vaccines.

Tama County Public Health is currently administering around 100 vaccinations a day but has the capacity and demand to double that amount according to Zoffka.

“We could definitely use a larger allotment of vaccines per week,” Zoffka said. “Iowa Premium could definitely use more Johnson and Johnson vaccines as well.”

Gov. Kim Reynolds visited the Tama County Vaccine Clinic Friday morning where she met volunteer Duane Backen. Tama County Public Health Director Shannon Zoffka is also pictured. Allison Graham/News Chronicle

Out of roughly 900 employees at Iowa Premium, only 250 to 300 have been vaccinated according to Zoffka.

She is hopeful to see an increase in dosages and expects the state as a whole to be receiving increased volumes of vaccines in the near future. So far, Tama County has not seen an increase in vaccine shipments following the state’s inclusion of adults under the age of 65 with underlying health conditions in the priority population rollout guidelines.

“We are limited by what (the federal government) can get to us,” Reynolds said. “It’s nice to get out in the state and see the process that they have in place. This is literally what I have been doing. To understand the vaccines that they are getting and the capacity to do even more. Every county gets a certain amount based on population. As we see the allocations come in, we want to get them out to clinics that can get them in the arms of Iowans. That’s the most important thing, to not be sitting on anything and get the vaccines administered. (Tama County) has got the capacity to do it and hopefully we can get that happening and get them a few more doses.”

Housing needs

The vacant 27-acre campus in the heart of Toledo’s residential area has been a topic of conversation for the city since the Iowa Juvenile Home was shuttered in 2014. The property is still owned by the State of Iowa’s Department of Human Services and is being managed by the Iowa Department of Administrative Services.

Gov. Kim Reynolds talks with Tracy Hathaway, a Tama County Public Health employee Friday morning. Allison Graham/News Chronicle

Toledo Mayor, Brian Sokol, would like to see at least part of the property used for housing.

Sokol said the biggest concern he sees in the community is a lack of housing. He has previously proposed the state break up the property in order for housing to be built on the open ground that spans the southern border of the juvenile home lot into a vacant, city-owned lot further to the south. However, the state has not moved forward with that idea.

“The biggest concern is not a lack of low income housing, it’s middle and higher income housing. We are hoping we can use this property, and the bare land for a housing development,” Sokol said.

The need for housing in both Toledo and Tama will be even more apparent with the recent announcement from Iowa Premium.

National Beef announced their Tama meat packing facility would be undergoing a major expansion; adding a second shift and doubling their capacity by the end of 2022. In a press release from the company, National Beef executives said Iowa Premium expects to add hundreds of employees to their workforce.

Over the past seven years many ideas have been floated as to what to do with the Toledo property, including a nursing home or a trade school. But nothing has stuck.

“I’ve kind of given up on the idea of repurposing the facility because it’s been seven years and nobody has come up with the money to do that,” State Representative Dean Fisher said. “It’s just difficult to repurpose these buildings.”

Now with new leadership within the state Department of Administrative Services and the Department of Human Services, Sokol and Fisher are hopeful to restart the talks and bring the new directors up to speed.

“We’ve had at least two (different directors) in the last couple of years and that has kind of put some roadblocks up as far as communications,” Sokol said.

“I think this conversation was good today,” Fisher said. “If the governor can help us get DHS and DAS to separate the property, that would be good. (The state) has wanted to keep it together because they don’t want to get stuck with the difficult part, but that just means there is no progress.”

Fisher plans to put together some information for Reynolds about the roadblocks standing in the way of progress at the Toledo facility and what he thinks needs to be done to move forward.

In 2019 the Iowa Economic Development Authority launched a grant program to provide up to $1 million per fiscal year to local governments for the demolition or renovation of state-owned facilities. In 2019 a project in Vinton was awarded funding through the program for the renovation of the Iowa Braille and Sight Saving School.

According to Fisher, the program was put on hold in 2020 due to budget issues.

“I’m going to push to increase the allotment for that program, but I don’t know how successful I’ll be because we are pretty conservative with the budget,” Fisher said. “A million dollars would not be enough to demolish this entire facility.”

Sokol is still hoping someone will repurpose the administration building but the cottages he feels would be easier to let go at this point.

Sokol and Fisher were both encouraged after their conversation with Reynolds.

“Gov. Reynolds was very optimistic,” Sokol said. “She understands the housing needs, with or without Iowa Premium. We just don’t have any lots to build on.”