Coliseum better than ever after renovation

In 2019, if you would have told Geoff Hubbard $1.36 million could be raised to renovate the Veterans Memorial Coliseum, he would have been pretty skeptical.

Fast forward to today and the Parks and Recreation Director looks at the donor wall of the Coliseum in awe.

After the tornado shook the Veterans Memorial Coliseum during a July morning in 2018, a building already in need of a facelift was punished into an even more dire condition. Back open and better than ever, you wouldn’t know what this hub of downtown has been through by looking at it.

The damage from the tornado necessitated repairs, but the city already intended to do a renovation on the building. In a way, the tornado pushed those plans forward perhaps a bit quicker. Because of insurance, the tornado damage was covered for $2.1 million. This set the mark for fundraising at $1.35 million.

A committee was formed for fundraising. It was co-chaired by Vic Hellberg and Steve Storjohann and also included Marshalltown City Council members Mike Gowdy and Al Hoop, resident Deb Mettlin and businessperson Kelli Thurston.

“So when they were first talking about it, they had the whole ball of wax to think about. I wasn’t involved at all at that point,” Hellberg said. “Once the tornado hit, now we’ve got to move forward because we’ve got no roof. So now it’s got to happen.”

For fundraising, almost every idea thinkable was on the table from the start. Before long it was becoming evident the $1.35 million goal was reachable. It was just a matter of how quickly it would be reached.

Individual donors gave anywhere from a few dollars to a few thousand. A benefit concert featuring country singer Jason Brown brought in as much as $10,000. The Marshalltown High School class of 1964, which Hellberg and Storjohann were part of, donated $22,000. Businesses and community members which had stepped up in other ways after the tornado weren’t hesitant to lend a hand again with donations.

“It just shows Marshalltown all came together after the tornado and made it better. The same after the derecho,” Hubbard said. “I’ve never been not comfortable going to anybody to ask them for help; not JBS or anybody. Even though I’ve hit them up for other things.”

The Coliseum is back to being a hot spot for activities in the community.

When the tornado hit, Summer Blast day camp was using the Coliseum and had to seek shelter in its basement. They returned to the ground floor to find the roof of the building had been torn off. Now Summer Blast is back in the building with new capabilities. Some of the kids are even returning from before the tornado, before the derecho and before COVID-19. There have been up to 100 kids in attendance at a time for Summer Blast.

“It’s cool to see some of the kids who were around previously back at it again,” Hubbard said. “They’re excited to see the expanded gym space.”

All of the spaces, from meeting rooms to the gym are not just nicer, they are also more functional. The upstairs was largely used for storage before renovation. It has opened up activity space. There is room for STEM activities, games and arts and crafts.

Camp Marshalltown was moved from Miller Middle School to the Coliseum, creating interaction between more kids.

Live After Five hasn’t had to get stuck in the rain with the Coliseum being available as a backup site. On July 9, more than 100 people came to watch the show indoors. It was the first event to happen in the Coliseum that wasn’t through the Parks and Recreation Department since reopening. Hubbard said this allowed staff to see how someone else used the space.

The Coliseum has hosted some big sporting events too. Basketball and volleyball tournaments were held in February and May respectively, showcasing what the gym can handle. With the ability to seat 400 in the stands, it was no problem at all.

The Veterans Memorial Coliseum represents recovery for a city that has been through it all. It also represents the will of its citizens to bounce back better. Hubbard recently gave a tour to a former citizen who had returned to see the renovated building.

“We kind of talked at the donor wall. I told him this donor wall represents $1.35 million that people helped contribute to this project that got us to our goal,” he said. “That was huge.”

Contact Joe Fisher at news@timesrepublican.com.


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