Thanks to the generosity of John and Kim Grzywacz, their Iowa community has a warm place to get tested for COVID-19 and, soon, receive vaccines.
In November, the TestIowa site at Iowa State University’s Research Park relocated to the home of the Gryzwacz’s business, CIT Signature Transportation’s drive-thru facility in Ames.
The couple volunteered the garage that is usually the hub of their operations to be the TestIowa site in Ames through the winter and the spring.
The enclosed drive-thru garage is ideal for the operation, which previously was conducted out of tents, as Iowa heads into a long winter.
“We needed to change sites for Dec. 1, and we were working very hard to find a place,” Steve Sullivan, spokesman for the Mary Greeley Medical Center, told the Ames Tribune. “John, Kim and their family were amazing. … We just can’t thank them enough for what they’re doing for us. It’s going to be a terrific location for people.”
‘Stars just aligned’
John Grzywacz said the timing worked out for him, as well. The location hasn’t gotten much use since the COVID-19 pandemic brought business to a halt in March, forcing him to furlough most of his staff.
In a move to save money, he planned to close down the Ames facility for the winter, which required blowing out the water lines and turning down the heat. The plan was to operate out of the satellite location in Des Moines, 35 miles away. It’s less expensive to maintain, and most of the company’s business is in that market.
“Literally, the stars just aligned,” Grzywacz said.
As part of the arrangement, the county government is picking up the building’s maintenance costs, including utilities. It’s also upgrading internet service. Since the internet company requires a three-year agreement, it’s paying for the service for three years.
The facility can fit about 14 buses and has three drive-through lanes. One lane is being used for COVID-19 testing and another is expected to be used for administering the COVID-19 vaccine.
While he has bookings in May, Grzywacz eventually agreed to provide the space through June 1, since the upkeep of the building will extend his budget.
The heavy-duty Wi-Fi routers being installed in the facility are for computer carts that go from patient to patient as the nurses do their work. Along with the Wi-Fi improvements, the county is running new electrical lines into the building’s server room.
“There are little things that they’re doing to our building that are definitely going to be an enhancement for us,” Grzywacz said.
While the hospital and county were running out of options because the health care workers couldn’t continue to work out of tents as the weather turned cold, he didn’t want to play hardball and demand rent.
He thinks the partnership will pay off in three ways. First, he’s reducing a major expense, so his savings will stretch further. Second, he’s keeping the building from going dormant. And third, the project is generating goodwill in the community, which Grzywacz hopes to parlay into increased support for the industry.
He hopes to have congressional leaders tour the facility this month.
“The project is a good example of how local businesses and the government can work together to make a community stronger,” he said.
Additionally, his staff members are excited to be a part of the effort to reduce the pandemic’s impact on their community.
The idea for the hospital to use the facility came from Story County Supervisor Loris Olson, whom Grzywacz first met when she was an education reporter for the Des Moines Register.
They would see each other at school board meetings when he was giving an update on his school busing contract.
“I’d be waiting for my turn to talk, and we would just gab, so we just got to know each other,” said Grzywacz. “It was just a relationship from years and years and years ago.”
He thinks the role the garage is playing in addressing the COVID-19 pandemic will make its way into the local historical archives.
“You know, 50 to 100 years from now, they might have a picture of our building during the pandemic of 2020. I believe we’re going to be noted in history at some point in this community, and I think that’s a little cool,” Grzywacz said.