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Facelift slated for Vets Memorial Coliseum

T-R file photo The proposed Veterans Memorial Coliseum is scheduled to open in 2020. Total project cost is set for $3.6 million.

The tornado’s work was done when it lifted off near the Marshalltown Generating Station in the late afternoon of July 19.

But the work was just beginning for emergency responders, Alliant Energy crews, city and county officials. They would have their hands full for the weeks ahead.

“The first 24 hours required us going out into neighborhoods and making sure people were safe,” Marshalltown Police Capt. Brian Batterson said. “The other top priorities were traffic control and looting prevention.”

The Marshalltown Fire Department was designated command central, because of damage to city hall, Marshalltown Police Department headquarters and the Veterans Memorial Coliseum.

The tornado ripped off most of the coliseum roof and dropped it on city hall, while also disrupting natural gas service to the MPD.

Police and E-911 operators had to evacuate twice before final repairs were made. Soon thereafter city officials announced city hall would be closed many weeks for roof repairs and clean up of wind and water damage. City offices were moved to the public library and public works buildings.

The report on the coliseum, however, was good and bad.

City Administrator Jessica Kinser said the building suffered the most damage of any city property. Not only was most of the roof gone, but a sprinkler head erupted causing major water damage. The giant and iconic “Coliseum” sign had been twisted pretzel-like by vicious winds.

Amazingly, the building was structurally sound.

City staff, in tandem with residents and veterans, rolled up their sleeves and went to work. A disaster clean-up and restoration company was hired. They reported to the site and began work of clean up and repair which would take months to complete.

Not only did the coliseum serve as a monument to the service and sacrifice of Marshalltown veterans, it was also used extensively by adults and youth alike for Parks and Recreation sponsored programs and community activities like Oktemberfest.

However, a tornado induced-benefit allowed insurance money to be used for improvements to the building previously identified from a 2017 renovation plan approved by the city council. GTG, a Des Moines-based consultant, had estimated expenses of $3.6 million — all could be offset by a similar amount of revenue from insurance, city funds on hand, grants, donations and more.

Approximately six weeks after announcing a $1.35 million capital improvement campaign to renovate the coliseum, organizers were gifted with a $400,00 challenge grant from the local Martha-Ellen Tye Foundation. They committed to donate $400,000 to the cause once the committee raised a similar amount.

The committee is making progress meeting the challenge.

“The Martha-Ellen Tye Foundation is the catalyst we need to jump start this project, and we encourage the community and local businesses to help support the renovation and match this grant,” Director of Parks & Recreation Geoff Hubbard said. “Once rebuilt, we hope the coliseum becomes the heart and soul of the downtown — full of activities and events for the community to participate in and a gathering space.”

The Rebuild Marshalltown fund allotted $100,000 for the project. Soon thereafter Casey’s Charities (a division of Casey’s General Stores) and local employer JBS each made $10,000 donations to the cause.

“Receiving the (challenge) grant is great news,” Commandant of the local American Legion Post Randy Kessler said. “The Veterans Memorial Coliseum has served as a tribute to veterans and a community focal point since 1927.”

Coliseum committee member and third ward councilor Mike Gowdy said he “looks forward to working with fellow committee members on this worthwhile cause which not only honors our veterans, but provides our residents more opportunities for fellowship and recreation.”

Part of the renovations will include Americans with Disabilities Act compliance, making the entire space accessible. Hubbard said the stadium seating and stage will be removed to make room for two full-size basketball courts. Indoor soccer and pickleball are also planned.

Donations can be made online at www.mtowncoliseum.com or by mail to the Veterans Memorial Coliseum Fund, 24 N. Center St., Marshalltown, 50158.

Read this story and more in the “Progress & Pride” magazine in this Sunday’s T-R.