Developer addresses Lansing City Council about his interest in renovating Old Stone School; Council considers public art piece installed for RAGBRAI

by Julie Berg-Raymond

The Lansing City Council heard from Larry Schellhammer about his interest in renovating the Old Stone School at its regular meeting Monday, September 19. Schellhammer, of rural Lansing, told the council that he was interested in hearing the direction the City wants to go with the property.

Schellhammer - who currently serves as chairman of the Allamakee County Board of Supervisors - told the council, “there’s a lot of space, a lot of potential; but it also needs a lot of work. I don’t know that without some sort of grant it would be economically feasible to make apartments.”

He told the council that he is working on a building of a similar age in Waukon. “I have a passion for old buildings,” Schellhammer said. “This one intrigues me.”

Main Street Lansing Executive Director Andy Kelleher first approached the council with Schellhammer’s idea for the building in August. At that time, Kelleher told the council that Schellhammer had toured the building and wished to move forward with a plan for six to eight apartment units, with rent potentially in the $750-$850 range.

Also at that time, Kelleher noted that “the potential developer would like to know if the City of Lansing would ever consider removing the property from the Register.” In noting this, Kelleher added that “As a historic preservation organization, Main Street Lansing does not recommend removing the Stone School from the National Register of Historic Places.

However, since the property has sat vacant for nearly 50 years, we do not want to prevent ideas from being presented to the city council.”

A University of Iowa class is currently engaged in a semester-long course during which the students will complete a structural analysis of the Old Stone School as well as a use/recommendation analysis - where the students would use community input as a parameter. At Monday night’s meeting, Mayor Pro Tem Curtis Snitker said the students and their professor had visited the building two weeks prior and would be presenting an update to the council.

“They realized it’s probably a much bigger task than they originally anticipated,” Snitker said. But he expressed confidence in their abilities, saying, “these students were selected for this program by their professors; they’re the ‘cream of the crop.’”

Snitker said the students would be providing weekly updates until the project is completed and noted that their goals are to 1) determine the soundness of the building and what would be required to stabilize it, if necessary; and 2) develop recommendations for use. Regarding the latter goal, they are considering the possibility of a city/municipal facility, possibly including a community center.

“They should also consider some residential use for the structure,” Snitker said. “I lean toward some City function in the building, because of the historical aspect. It’s a shame that it’s just sitting there. It needs to be preserved.”

Schellhammer said he would like to visit the site again, with the students and their professor; the council will review all options once the students have completed their study in December.

The council was advised that citizens have been asking about the Iowa/Love painted art piece which was affixed to the pump house for RAGBRAI and has not yet been removed. Following some discussion of the art piece, council member Steve Murray made the motion to not permanently affix the sign due to the material with which it was made - 1/4-inch untreated plywood. “My concern is it will rot out within a year or two,” he said.

Council member Mike Manning voted yes on the motion; Council members Snitker and Lisa Welsh both voted no. Because only four board members were present and the matter did not receive a majority vote, the motion failed. According to City Clerk Katie Becker, the failed motion means “the art will remain for now and will not be secured.”

“I still don’t think it can be permanently affixed due to the only purpose of it being allowed up initially was for the temporary purpose of RAGBRAI,” Murray said in an email following the meeting. “All signs affixed in Lansing need council approval.”

Welsh said she believes Murray has valid points about the material not being made for outdoor weather. “I would like to look further into the material and what can be done to make it more weather resistant or find a place for it indoors somewhere,” she said, in an email following the meeting. “Honestly, I am not sure where the art will go; but I believe art is important in our community and we should be displaying and encouraging more art here.”

Parks Board Chair Maryann Baldwin said that board will take up the question at its next meeting. If anyone has suggestions for the piece, Baldwin said they are invited to attend the board meeting or drop their suggestion off at City Hall before October 10.

In other Parks news, the council approved the following road closures for the Driftless Half-Marathon Saturday, October 8 between 6 a.m. and noon: the intersection of Valley and South Front Street to the intersection of South Front and Main Street; John Street between Front and Second Street. The 24-hour parking lot will be blocked off for the marathon’s use, and a traffic sign will be put up to prevent people from turning east onto Main at Second Street.

The council also approved the Lansing Memorial Program Policies and Application Form. Forms are available at Lansing City Hall. Members of the Parks Board can be contacted through City Hall to answer questions and assist with memorial suggestions.

Lansing Chief of Police Conrad Rosendahl asked the council to post school zone signs in front of Kee High School in Lansing. “One reason I want it posted is because fines are double in a school zone during the posted hours,” Chief Rosendahl said. “It’s hard to enforce if it is not posted.”

Chief Rosendahl also told the council about a federal program he is interested in implementing in Lansing, called Faith & Blue - which, he said, “encourages police officers to get involved with community churches.” According to the program’s website at, “Faith & Blue was launched to facilitate safer, stronger, more just and unified communities by directly enabling local partnerships among law enforcement professionals, residents, businesses and community groups through the connections of local faith-based organizations. The initiative aims to re-calibrate police-community relations through solutions-focused, in-person, socially distanced and/or virtual activities that are organized jointly by faith-based or other community groups and law enforcement agencies.”

Council members expressed interest in the goals of the program while cautioning that the council cannot be involved in any kind of sanctioning of it, due to Constitutional concerns regarding the separation of church and state. Mayor Pro Tem Snitker noted that, while police officers are entitled to participate while in uniform, they need to be off duty while doing so.

The council approved Special Permit Application No. 10-22 for a 15-foot building at 680 North Street. Council member Murray said that a concerned citizen had approached him, questioning whether this variance - and the attendant costs in time, postage on letters sent to neighbors, etc. - was really necessary, since the building height was in line with requirements outlines in the recently revised city code. Due to some discrepancies in interpretation of the code regarding site measurement starting positions, the council opted to approve the variance as requested and clear up the language in that portion of the city code. The garage will sit 15 feet in height from the rear of the property, on Hill Street.

August 10 and 11 the department helped the street department set up for Fish Days. August 22, water valves around town started being exercised, in order to maintain viability of the valves and to find any problems they might have. August 29, a new water service was tapped for a future residence on South 5th Street.

August 8, two bad floats were replaced. Both the ball diamond lift station and 4th Street lift station had a bad level float, which control when the pumps come on in relation to wet well level. August 16, a broken “T” fitting was found in the six-inch air-line in the Aero-Mod system. The air had to be shut down while the line and fitting were repaired.

Concerns were raised before the council about progress on cleaning up the nuisance property at 650 South 2nd Street - particularly as regards sewage-like odors emanating from the property. Council member Murray said he had visited the property five times that week and had spoken with the property owner. The brush and weeds on the property were being cleaned up first, he said; the inside of the property would be cleaned that week.

In other business, the council approved the following: winter storage for S&S docks at a cost of $1511.70.

The next regular meeting of the Lansing City Council is scheduled to be held Monday, October 3 at 7 p.m. in Lansing City Hall.