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Keokuk Aldermen Vote to Demolish Vacant Church

Jason Parrott
The Keokuk City Council voted 7-1 to demolish the former Unitarian Church, which has sat vacant for years.

The future of the former Unitarian Church in Keokuk has been a topic of conversation amongst the city council for years. The time for talk came to an end Thursday night.

Aldermen voted 7-1 to demolish the vacant church at the corner of 4th and High Streets. This clears the way for the city to award a demolition contract in early August.

The solid brick church was built in 1880. It’s sat vacant for at least 20 years. A judge ruled in December the building was dangerous.

City staff said, Thursday night, the condition of the building continues to deteriorate, with holes in the roof, damage to the sanctuary floor, and crumbling walls. It was deemed unsafe to occupy in 2008, which meant people could not enter the building without city permission.

Alderman Roger Bryant said prior to Thursday’s vote that the church was too far gone.

“The church has gone from a historic structure to a dangerous structure,” said Bryant.

Alderman Dan Winn agreed. He said the city could not sit around any longer and allow the building to continue to crumble.

Winn said he hopes this decision will inspire local historic preservation efforts to start much sooner.

“I mean we need to start saving these historic buildings before they are too far gone,” said Winn.  “You know, 20-25 years out, we could have saved this building, the Unitarian Church, We need to target some of the other buildings in town that are 20 years from being in the same shape.”

Alderman Ron Payne, who cast the lone no vote, said he agreed that the building is in really bad shape. But he said he could not support the demolition because it is permanent.

“I have a hard time letting go of the fact that once it’s gone, it’s gone. If we have someone out there trying right now to save it, I think we need to give him more time than just two weeks,” said Payne.

The resolution to allow for the demolition of the church first appeared on the agenda for the city council’s July 6 meeting.

At that time, a pair of Keokuk residents, David Romaine and Rod Tinson, asked aldermen to hold off on taking that vote. They asked for time to try to raise money to save the church.

The request seemed to work as aldermen voted that night to delay the vote to demolish. But the delay proved to be short-lived.

Several aldermen said Thursday night that they wanted to move forward because previous attempts to save the church raised just a few thousand dollars, as opposed to the millions that would be needed.

The city council is now expected to award a demolition contract next month. The city received three bids for the demolition and some salvage work, ranging from about $150,000 to $250,000.

The city did budget $500,000 for citywide demolition expenses this year.

Jason Parrott is a former reporter at Tri States Public Radio.