Feb 14, 2024 - News

Des Moines' Willkie House launching a $6 million makeover

A photo of the Wilkie House.

Part of the Willkie House's renovation plan includes making the building more accessible for people with disabilities. Photo: Jason Clayworth/Axios

The Willkie House launches the first phase of a nearly $6 million makeover next month.

Catch up fast: The group started in 1917 as an extension of the War Recreation Board for Black Officers at Fort Des Moines. It's one of the oldest Black community-based organizations in Iowa.

  • By 1935 its functions shifted to a community center that served 70% of DSM's Black residents, according to a historical marker at the group's Sherman Hill headquarters.

Of note: The group's mission has more recently focused on youth development, as it's most commonly known for its summer and after-school programs.

  • The current facility opened in 1951 and hasn't had any major updates in more than 40 years.

What's happening: Willkie supporters recently launched a capital campaign to renovate the facility.

  • The first $500K phase, paid partly through a $100K grant allocated by Polk County Supervisors, will include a renovation to its gym.

What they're saying: The gym improvements will allow Willkie House officials to rent the facility out for events, with the income being used to support programming for children of low-income families, facility director Alex Rice tells Axios.

  • The second phase will provide additional classroom space through interior redesign without expanding the building's current footprint.

What's next: Renovations will be staged to minimize disruptions to Willkie House programs with the gym phase completed before summer.

A rendering of the Wilkie House gym.
Gym renovations include new bleachers. The old ones were previously removed because they were unsafe. Rendering: Studio MELEE, courtesy of the Willkie House

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