Iowa City awards $3 million to nonprofits to build community center and renovate medical clinic

From left, City Aric Goers, City Manager Geoff Fruin, council members Shawn Harmsen, Andrew Dunn and Pauline Taylor, Mayor Bruce Teague, Mayor Pro Tem Megan Alter, and council members John Thomas and Laura Bergusduring a council meeting Tuesday.
From left, City Aric Goers, City Manager Geoff Fruin, council members Shawn Harmsen, Andrew Dunn and Pauline Taylor, Mayor Bruce Teague, Mayor Pro Tem Megan Alter, and council members John Thomas and Laura Bergusduring a council meeting Tuesday.

Iowa City Council has awarded $3 million in grants to two area nonprofits, helping fund projects expanding accessibility to free medical and dental care and to build a new community center.

The council on Tuesday unanimously approved $1 million for the Free Medical Clinic and $2 million for the Neighborhood Centers of Johnson County. The funds come from the $18.3 million in federal funds the city received from the American Rescue Plan Act.

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The Free Medical Clinic at 2440 Towncrest Drive proposes to use the grant to expand and renovate its clinic and dental operating rooms and add American with Disabilities Act accessibility improvements.

The Neighborhood Centers of Johnson County plans to use its share toward acquiring and renovating a structure to serve as a community center in a yet-to-be-named neighborhood. The center will provide spaces for early childhood education and care, youth after-school programming and family andneighborhood support.

The Towncrest area near the intersections of First and Muscatine avenues was mentioned as a possible site.

Mayor Bruce Teague speaks during a council meeting Jan. 24.
Mayor Bruce Teague speaks during a council meeting Jan. 24.

Mayor Bruce Teague said he was happy to support both nonprofits and said Neighborhood Centers of Johnson County has proven it can serve a diverse population in Iowa City. He said he is especially excited about helping the Free Medical Clinic because when he first moved to Iowa City he had to get a wisdom tooth removed there.

"This was a way to honor the work people have done," Teague said.

The council put out a request for grant proposals in December, specifically aiming at "legacy agencies" the city has worked with in the past. The program was mainly intended to help them build capacity with facility improvements and renovations, rather than to fund operations.

Now that the council has chosen its finalists, city staff can help both agencies flesh out the proposals before coming back before the council for another vote.

What is in the proposal from the Iowa City Free Medical Clinic?

This Free Medical Clinic's plan calls for renovating the lower level of its facility to add a reception area and five new exam rooms for specialty care, installing an ADA-compliant elevator and renovating the stairwell. In addition, it proposes to renovate portions of a lower-level garage and relocate the two dental operating rooms from the upper level, making room for two or three additional clinic rooms and an administrative office.

Iowa City anticipates that with the renovations, the agency will be able to expand its dental offerings to a full program.

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Assistant City Manager Rachel Kilburg said Tuesday that during the city's review process the staff decided the nonprofit clinic's original request for $500,000 was actually insufficient to meet demand.

Kilburg said the clinic reported there is a three-month waiting list for chronic care and one-year waiting list for dental services.

"There's a perception out there that you cannot get into Free Medical Clinic due to those waiting lists," she said.

Kilburg added the agency anticipates that when some temporary pandemic-related expansions to the Medicaid program end this spring, it will likely increase that demand.

Council member Shawn Harmsen said the city partnering with the clinic to help provide free medical care is important, especially since the norm is a for-profit medical system that often leaves people without the medical care they need.

"(Dental care) is really important and should be part of health care. It is weird that we don't think of those within the same category or bucket, so it's good we can use this money for those kinds of things," he said.

What did the Neighborhood Centers of Johnson County propose?

The $2 million grant to the Neighborhood Centers of Johnson County will largely go toward its capital campaign to acquire and renovate a new community center. The project will add at least 50 early childhood education and child care slots in six classrooms, satellite public library space, a computer lab for adults and youths and educational programming. The community center also will have a large multi-purpose space with a kitchen, after-school classrooms for youth development programs, a welcoming lobby with public computer access and social gathering areas.

In addition, the organization wants to form a partnership with a food pantry and have private meeting rooms and offices for staff and community partners.

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Kilburg told the council the neighborhood centers proposal originally was for $3 million but the city's review committee ultimately recommended a $2 million grant so the city could fund more than one project. She said $2 million is still a significant addition to the centers' capital campaign goals.

Council member John Thomas called the projects "transformational" and said he is thrilled with both. He said he hopes the community center project will be a model for future proposals.

"As you know I am very keen on the idea of neighborhood centers," Thomas said.

Six proposals passed over

The city bypassed proposals from six other nonprofits. Some council members expressed disappointment they were unable to fund more projects, but said they hope the process helps inspire the agencies.

Funding all eight proposals would have cost the city $11 million.

A review committee comprised of council members Megan Alter and Laura Bergus, one representative from the city manager’s office and three from the city's neighborhood services department made the recommendations to the council.

The proposals the council skipped included $837,000 for Shelter House to make improvements to its emergency shelter for safety, trauma‐informed service delivery, and increased capacity to serve families; $1 million for the Domestic Violence Intervention Program, which wants to build a new shelter on the south side; and $3 million for CommUnity to acquire and develop The Campus, a non‐profit Human Services Campus providing clients a one‐stop shop for community resources.

Bergus encouraged the council to look at the other projects because asking the agencies to "dream big and tell us what you can do" resulted in some strong ideas.

"It made me really excited and hopeful for the future that our nonprofit agencies are thinking so strategically and towards the future," she said. "I hope we can help find more resources."

Alter said the projects the city didn't fund are "seeds for what we can do" and are options for the city to consider supporting in the future. She said now that the city has prompted nonprofits to think about what they can fund, those ideas aren't going to disappear, even without city funding.

George Shillcock is the Press-Citizen's local government and development reporter covering Iowa City and Johnson County. He can be reached at (319) 214-5039, and on Twitter @ShillcockGeorge

This article originally appeared on Iowa City Press-Citizen: Iowa City Council awards $3 million to two nonprofits