‘Placemaker’ could be answer to former Charles City Middle School problem

CHARLES CITY — The clamor of sneakers on polished terrazzo floors, lockers slapping shut, and fledgling teenagers chattering is gone. Hollow echoes mostly fill the former home of the Charles City Middle School.

It’s been nearly a full school year since CCMS moved to its new campus. Despite all the meetings and professional study of community facilities, needs and wants, the future of the 1931 art deco building at 500 N. Grand Ave remains uncertain.

Charles City Administrator Steve Diers suggests that a professional “placemaker” might be the missing link to getting city and school district leaders to finally back a joint solution.

The Charles City Council will discuss the concept at its 4 p.m. special planning meeting on Tuesday, May 30.

Diers defined placemaking in a report to the council as an effort that “inspires people to collectively reimagine and reinvent public spaces at the heart of every community.”

A specialist in placemaking, Zach Mannheimer of McClure Engineering, “visited Charles City several weeks ago and toured the 500 N. Grand building and shared some initial thoughts on what it could possibly take to make a collaborative public/private partnership effort a success at that location,” Diers said.

He explained the first steps.
“The initial thought would be that the proposed costs of the study work could be shared between the school and the city,” Diers said. “And (it) … could be that final missing piece needed to bring the multiple entities together to make use of the 500 N. Grand building and make it something special.”

Mannheimer will attend the meeting to deliver his review of the building and possibilities.

“We know from our community study from 2015 that finding an ultimate solution with the old middle school is top priority of the community,” Diers wrote. “I think this is an exciting opportunity that could address multiple questions and help us all come to some resolution on its future.”

Mannhiemer’s services that would include a study and an action plan could cost the city and school district more than $10,000, according to a draft proposal presented to the council.

Mannheimer joined McClure within the last three months, according to the firm’s website.

“My work at MEC will begin with Creative Placemaking for rural communities with the goal of helping them achieve economic and population growth through cultural and entrepreneurial amenities, concepts, and catalytic projects,” Mannheimer is quoted in a company article on the site.

Mannheimer, after eight years as executive action director of the Des Moines Social Club, which he founded, joined Iowa Business Growth in January 2016 as vice president of Creative Placemaking.

Mannheimer and the Iowa Business Growth team created economic development and population growth in targeted regions across the state, the article says. “The actionable steps included, among others, cultural amenities, housing projects, and incentive packages to attract and retain young people to rural Iowa,” it says.

The Des Moline Social Club is an arts and educational non-profit. Its website describes the non-profit as “an innovative arts and entertainment venue located in a renovated, historic art deco firehouse in downtown Des Moines. The non-profit provides a home for local artists, offers unique programming spanning all arts disciplines, and brings people of every age and background together under one roof — all for the purpose to use the arts as a catalyst to create unprecedented community engagement.”

Mannheimer has a bachelor’s degree in philosophy and theatre from Muhlenberg College. He was awarded the Governor of Iowa Volunteer Service Award and Young Professional of the Year in 2009.

The article also notes that he serves on the boards of Iowa Public Radio and the Iowa Rural Development Council.

He co-owns Proof Restaurant in Des Moines that specializes in Mediterranean cuisine.

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