Halstead council talks pursuing grant to raze former church, build daycare center

The Halstead City Council talked Friday night about pursuing a state grant to tear down the former Presbyterian Church to build a daycare center in its place. The city purchased the church building for $1 in 2016 to use it as a community center, but necessary renovations proved to be cost-prohibitive.

By Jared Janzen

HALSTEAD—The city of Halstead is needing to make some quick decisions on applying for a BASE grant from the state. City staff had begun a grant application to pursue upgrades to the Industrial Park, but during a Friday-night work session, mayor Dennis Travis instead suggested applying for a BASE grant to tear down the former Presbyterian Church at 328 Main and build a daycare center in its place.

“It’s smacking two or three birds with one rock,” he said.

Grant applications are due Monday at midnight, meaning the city will have to take action on whether to apply for the grant during its regular Monday night meeting.

The BASE (Building A Stronger Economy) grant uses federal COVID-19 relief funds for municipalities or other organizations like colleges to complete projects that will drive the economy. Applicants are required to match at least 25% of the cost. It was announced Jan. 31, with $100 million available.

City Manager Ethan Reimer described it as a highly competitive grant.

“I’ll be honest—not to be negative or to bring the room down—but what we’re hearing is they’re really looking for shovel-ready projects, which ours is not, by any stretch,” he said.

Reimer cautioned that information in Halstead’s application would have to be speculative because they won’t have time by Monday to obtain precise estimates.

“And the big part is we have to guarantee that match percent,” he added.

Council member Denice Klassen raised concerns about trying to rush through a grant application for a daycare center project in two days.

“I guarantee that bigger players like KU and WSU have grant application departments that have those grant applications ready to go,” Klassen said. “They know what they want. I’m saying this from experience—you get in big trouble if you get grant money and you don’t spend it correctly.”

Travis replied that the city would be guaranteed not to get a grant if it just sat and looked at all the negatives.

“The need for childcare, the need for doing something with that property, the proximately to the library. There’s a lot of pros to that idea, but there’s some cons to it,” he said.

Travis said he thought there would be people in town interested in providing daycare if they had a facility to do it in. Council member Josh Homewood agreed that Halstead has a big need for childcare.

The council didn’t abandon the idea of a grant for the Industrial Park. Plans could include creating a 5,000-foot spec building; purchasing back two vacant, privately owned lots; making upgrades to the lift station; and adding signage to the entrances.

Reimer and Travis agreed that in their conversations with the Harvey County Economic Development Council, numerous companies have been interested in a ready-built spec building.

“If the building was there, I don’t think we’d have a hard time finding a tenant for it,” Travis said.

Reimer noted that the city could submit grant applications for both projects as long as the city was OK with matching funds.

Council member Brody Flavin said he thought it would be more reasonable to focus on the Industrial Park project since that application is further along. Travis said the city should shoot for both if Reimer had the time for it. Torres said he’d hate to see Reimer waste time on a project, but if the city had a better chance of making something happen with the Presbyterian Church, he’d like to see efforts directed there.

“The worst they can tell us is no,” Reimer said. “I just want to be very honest about the quality or amount of information that we’re going to be able to get. We can build speculative budgets, but I think that’s going to hurt us in some respects by not having hard quotes on any project we submit.”

Reimer cautioned the council that if they actually apply for these grants, they should be willing to follow through with the matching funds should they be awarded a grant.

“If we apply for this, we’re obligating that we’re going to make that match if we’re awarded,” he said. “We don’t want to waste their time and put our hat in the ring if we’re going to turn around and say we changed our mind.”

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