Council Bluffs is a community that treasures its history. The Historic General Dodge House. The Squirrel Cage Jail. The Union Pacific Museum. Even the bricks that make up the streets in the hills of Fifth Avenue.
We find the comfort of nostalgia in looking at old photos of the city and thinking about the times that used to be. Those moments recalling the past provide a solace from having to deal with a stressful present. There is nothing wrong with appreciating those moments in our lives and in our community’s history. And moving on, saying good-bye to a place where we have made memories is not an easy task.
The old St. Patrick’s Church location on Baughn and Harmony Streets was a place of fellowship and celebration. There were weddings, baptisms, funerals. Congregants celebrated numerous Christmases, Easters and other moments there. For many of us, the old church building will hold a special place in our hearts.
But now the church sits empty and in need of more repairs than may be financially desirable to most investors. St. Patrick’s Church is now located at the corner of Valley View Drive and College Road. It is there that the celebrations of its congregation continue. The building that sits at 132 Baughn St. is a place of memories, but has no foreseeable future.
The YMCA of Greater Omaha now owns that building and the land that it sits on. It belongs to them and, while we will mourn the old church, it is time to let the owners of that space do what they need with it.
The Y has plans to create a park and add parking for the adjacent Charles E. Lakin YMCA. A park, a place for families and friends to meet and create new memories, should be a welcome addition and would be fitting use of the space.
Saving the old church isn’t happening for lack of trying. The new St. Patrick’s Church on Valley View Drive opened in May 2018. During that year and in 2019, the church met with three potential buyers, but no offers were made.
On Monday, YMCA of Greater Omaha President and CEO Chris Tointon told the Council Bluffs City Council that in 2019 the church reached out to the YMCA of Greater Omaha about purchasing the property. The YMCA conducted due diligence to see if they could save the building.
“We looked at utilizing the church property. We looked at redevelopment of the entire site, looked at how could repurpose the church building,” Tointon said.
The YMCA had its facilities team and engineers conduct a physicals plant study of the building, with the report including foundation damage, asbestos and other “harmful” chemicals and an inoperable HVAC system, “among other challenges,” Tointon said.
At the time of the sale in 2019, the Rev. Glen Wilwerding, the now-retired St. Patrick’s priest, said, “The former St. Patrick’s Church property at Harmony and Baughn Streets served our parish community for nearly 100 years. We are extremely grateful for the history and memories of this property. As we have moved forward with our new church site, we are pleased that our local YMCA is acquiring our former location. We are confident that the YMCA will continue to be a strong community partner and utilize this property to further its’ mission in serving the residents of Council Bluffs and southwest Iowa.”
The church removed all items of value from the buildings, some of which were sold for fundraising purposes. And the YMCA has set up giving the cobblestone to the church as well for similar purposes.
“The building is far gone. There’s nothing left in it,” Tointon said.
Councilman Chad Hannan said that he has personal history with the church and wanted to make sure the YMCA had done everything possible before deciding to tear the buildings down. He said he believes they did.
“I hope people recognize, this building didn’t deteriorate because of the efforts of the YMCA. I’d love for it to be part of your operation, but I understand that’s not exactly economically feasible,” Hannan said. “I don’t want to get into government overreach, don’t want to put this building into a designation against your will. I am concerned about the precedent that would set.”
We agree with Hannan. While we are saddened that a chapter in our history that involves the old church has come to a close, we must move forward.
This is an instance where progress should prevail.