MUSCATINE — Muscatine County Historic Preservation Commission's big focus this year is to map, and eventually mark with signage, country schools and churches throughout the county.
Commissioner Lynn Pruitt said "there aren't many of them left in the county, but we want to document where they were, as well as those that are still here," during a presentation Monday morning before the Muscatine County Board of Supervisors.
Pruitt, along with commission chair Becky Allgood, presented the commission's plans for the coming year and last year's Iowa Certified Local Government Annual report for approval by board chair Nathan Mather.
Pruitt said the commission tried to secure a certified local government grant last year for the project that also included county cemeteries, but were not successful. The group will focus on schools and churches in its upcoming grant proposal.
"We're not too worried about the historic portion of the cemeteries," he said. "So, we're going after a historical resource development program grant, which is due April 19."
He said the commission sent out a request for quotation for grant consultants and expects to hear back by the end of the week. Once a consultant is selected, the commission will seek approval from the board and will also have the board approve the grant proposal before it is submitted for consideration. Another part of the schools and churches project will include getting buildings that are still standing listed on the National Registry of Historic Places, if they are not already listed.
Pruitt said there are about 100 country schools in the county to be mapped. Signage for all of the locations is the ultimate goal, but gathering information for identify each location, including when the each was built, used and closed, will take time.
Allgood reported the commission completed two projects last year: phase one of the Muscatine County Historic Jail Archive and Museum project, which included design and construction and the nomination process to add the Muscatine County Old Dairy Barn to the National Register of Historic Places. Allgood said the nine-member commission is working on establishing a friends group to raise funds for the historic jail restoration and plans to work on "public awareness and historic education" by having a social media presence such as Facebook.
Another nomination to the registry, downtown Nichols, is nearly complete and is expected to be done this year. Pruitt said the grant for the nomination for the historic district was completed last year and would include the one block downtown area. Downtown West Liberty and Wilton, and the Muscatine County Fairgrounds all have historic districts.
The commission receives $4,000 per year to cover the cost of training and other expenses. Last year, commissioners attended two conferences, the National Alliance of Preservation Commissions and Country School Preservation Conference. This year, Allgood said commissioners were asked to speak at the state's annual Preserve Iowa Summit in Newton. She will attend to talk about preservation efforts in Wilton, including the Candy Kitchen. Renovation work on 11 commercial buildings in the city's downtown historic district was done last year and is almost complete. Allgood said her hope is businesses will start moving into those spaces.
Pruitt and commissioner Jim Nepple will also represent Muscatine County to share the commission's accomplishments and "that this can happen throughout the state," Allgood said.
The report mentioned two projects in West Liberty: one ongoing and one unsuccessful. Hertitage Hall at the fairgrounds is still under construction and the report read the new building will be similar to the old one. The downtown West Liberty did not receive the community development block grant it applied for. Allgood said she didn't know the exact reason the grant was denied. "Hopefully, we'll be able to work with them and make that a success eventually," she said.
Supervisor Jeff Sorensen said he thought turnover during the application process may have played a role.
Pruitt and Allgood agreed competition is high for those grants.