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The Scarlet & Black

The Scarlet & Black

Grinnell DMV outpost to close

Photo by Sarah Ruiz
Photo by Sarah Ruiz
Photo by Sarah Ruiz

By Keli Vitaioli

While Grinnell has not had a permanent Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) center for years, the satellite location in the Community Center, opened once a week for issuing drivers licenses, has served an essential service to the community. With Grinnell LLC’s purchase of the Community Center, the building will be renovated into a 45 room hotel, displacing the DMV indefinitely. The firm asked the DMV to be cleared out by Nov. 1, after which the closest DMV to Grinnell in Poweshiek County will be in Montezuma, 22 miles away.

The Community Center currently houses the 10 city officials of the town, including Mayor Gordon Canfield. Extra offices in the three-story building were rented out to other institutions such as rehabilitation facilities, school district offices and the DMV.

Built in 1923, the building was becoming more expensive to repair than it would be for the city officials to move to a new location — the site of the former Transportation Museum in town, which the city still owns after the museum closed in 2015. Though the closing of the DMV is an inconvenience for the members of the community, Canfield believes the new hotel can stimulate some much-needed economic growth.

“The purpose for the hotel is to strengthen the downtown,” Canfield said. “The hotel will have a small bar and a breakfast room, but it will not have a restaurant. The idea is that the people who stay here will go to the other restaurants in town. … [The hotel’s event center] will be used for events, but if they want food for an event then they’ll cater in from these other restaurants and spark up business for these restaurants in town.”

The benefits of the DMV reached thousands of miles beyond that of the Grinnell community — domestic and international students of the College would use the location to renew or receive a United States driver’s license. Nirabh Koirala ’17 never received his license at home in Nepal, and the one he got in Grinnell not only allows him to drive but also allows him to occasionally travel without his passport.

Koirala chose to get his license in the States because he believes it is much easier to pass the driving test here than in Nepal. He passed his driving test after the second time he took it, and has since returned with other international students to provide support during their tests. Koirala may be one of few guests for which the DMV evokes pleasant memories.

“There’s a little bit of sentiment attached to me getting my license, and failing it and then getting it with Louise [Carhart ‘17],” Koirala said. “And then I went back with a Nepali first-year, and he got it, and I was his mentor — so there’s a little bit of sentiment attached to that.”

Mayor Canfield himself, however, has fond memories from before the building served as the community center.

“We are sitting in my old junior high school,” Canfield said. “The school sold this building to the City of Grinnell for one dollar.”

The DMV was paying no rent to use the space in the Community Center. At the time of the interview, Canfield was unsure whether there would be enough space in the new city building to continue that arrangement with the DMV. The responsibility for funding the DMV location falls on Poweshiek County. According to Mayor Canfield, though 60 percent of the population of Poweshiek resides in Grinnell, they are reluctant to fund a location in town due to there already being one in Newton. This puts the responsibility to find a location and pay for it on the DMV, and by extension, on the City of Grinnell.

“We have not found a space for them at this point, not to say we won’t, but so far, we have not been fortunate,” Canfield said. “It’s an inconvenience.”

Canfield is hopeful the City will find a space for a new satellite DMV location, but the search is hindered by special security and communications requirements for the satellite DMV to be able to communicate with the Iowa Department of Transportation.

“I think it will be a disservice to the international [students] to get either their state IDs or driver’s licenses,” Koirala remarked. “It was hard enough as it is, given that it would’ve only opened on Wednesday mornings, but now you need to go to Newton or Montezuma.”

—Louise Carhart ’17 is the       Community Editor

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