Washington Evening Journal
111 North Marion Avenue
Washington, IA 52353
The Wellmark Foundation, a community development nonprofit operating in Iowa and South Dakota, announced 29 grant recipients Tuesday, three of them in Washington and Jefferson Counties.
"The Wellmark Foundation Small MATCH grant winners are truly being creative in how each is promoting health in their communities,” said Wellmark Foundation Executive Director Mary Lawyer said in a news release. “From new swimming pools to trail enhancements to greenhouses and backyard garden creation, these projects will impact the quality of life and the overall well-being of Iowans for generations to come.”
In Washington County, the Halcyon House Retirement Community received a $25,000 grant.
Halcyon House Executive Director Chris Marshall said the money would help fund plans for 21 raised garden beds and three outdoor pickleball courts on the property.
“We had the space where our old health center was located, and we wanted to have something special there,” she said. “Something that we could not only benefit from for our residents and team members, but also community members, so we have some intergenerational activities.”
Marshall said she was in touch with schools in the area hoping to establish pickleball groups to use the courts.
With the grant secured, the organization now has around $70,000 set aside for the project according to Marshall. That’s enough to cover the price of concrete, but Marshall said other costs, including surface work and fencing on and around the pickleball courts, raised garden beds, grass seeding, and a fire pit in the area would take another $30,000, which Halcyon House continues to seek donations for.
“Hopefully we’ll be able to do that this fall, just because in the winter you don’t pour concrete, really,” Marshall said. “The concrete portion runs about $70,000, so we would pretty much have that, so we feel comfortable doing the concrete, but we won’t have the rest of it quite yet.”
West of Washington, along the county line, the city of Keota received a $25,000 Wellmark grant, which is earmarked for a municipal pool replacement project.
“The city of Keota is replacing its existing pool with a new L-shaped structure that is slightly larger and includes a descending step entry and chair lift to accommodate people of all ages and abilities,” a news release from the Wellmark Foundation said. “The pool will also include swim lanes to allow for swim team competitions. The heated pool will now offer a safe place for community members to stay active beyond the summer months.”
Keota’s existing pool has been closed since 2017 when it was deemed unsafe by the city.
“There were chunks of concrete that were broke up on the floor of the pool that every once in a while somebody would stub their toe or step on a piece of concrete,” Keota City Council member Mike Bender said in 2019. “It's pretty much beyond repair.”
The grant comes two years after Keota tried and failed to pass a $1.18 million bond referendum for the project.
Earlier this year, Keota Pool Advocate Dan Flynn appealed to the Washington County Board of Supervisors for funding, hoping it would help secure a state Community Attraction and Tourism grant. At that time, Flynn said group had $500,000 secured, out of the $1.2 million needed.
The proposed site of the pool at that board meeting was the Lagos Acres Golf and Country Club, which technically sits in Washington County.
The issue was not brought up in Washington County after that meeting. County Auditor Dan Widmer said the board supported the project despite a lack of formal action.
“They seemed in favor of $5,000 and a letter of support, but didn’t take any action” Widmer said. “I think the board was saying, ‘When you get a little closer and find out if they get other grants, come back to us for more.’”
Representatives from Keota Pool Advocates did not immediately respond to requests for an interview.
Fairfield Loop Trail
The city of Fairfield received $25,000 of its own from the Wellmark Foundation. Parks and Recreation Director Calvin Todd said the money would be used for work on the Fairfield Loop Trail.
“We are going to be re-rocking our trail system, as well as widening it back out to its original 10-foot width,” Todd said. “You start to get weeds and shrubs, stuff like that, that start to take over a little bit … sometimes you lose track of where the boundary was, and it’s just not as clearly defined as you’d like.”
While the project only covers three of the eight miles of trail maintained by the city, Todd said the incremental work was preferable.
“We’re doing the area with the grant money right now and hope to apply again next year,” he said. “It’s kind of like a process. Over the next couple of years we’d like to get a certain section done. Then, the next couple of years, get a different section done. This way it’s not all needing re-rocked and graded at the same time, it’s smaller sections which is easier to manage.”
Todd said the work, planned for the northwest portion of the trail around the city, was expected to take around two years, accounting for delays expected from weather and in-house construction.