Cedar Rapids School Board raises questions about proposed $312 million bond issue
By Cindy Hadish/Save CR Heritage
During their Jan. 23, 2023, meeting the Cedar Rapids Community School District’s Board of Education asked for more information regarding plans for secondary schools.
Most notably, School Board members questioned how the closure of McKinley Middle School, in southeast Cedar Rapids, would affect students, at least one-third of whom walk to school.
Closing McKinley as a middle school, but using it for the new City View High School magnet school is among the proposals for the $312 million bond issue.
Several school officials and the leader of the “Vote Yes” campaign, Scott Drzycimski, told the School Board why new middle schools are needed, even as the student population has decreased.
Most centered around students needing to “compete” with other school districts in Iowa.
School Board member Dexter Merschbrock asked that the board examine U.S. Census data for the neighborhood, including its Black population.
“It’s almost like we’re trying to gentrify the neighborhood by moving that middle school out,” he said.
While few questions were asked about a plan to demolish the 1924-built Wilson Middle School, Merschbrock cited a letter to the School Board submitted by Save CR Heritage, which asked that the board consider carbon emissions and sustainability in upgrading the current school, rather than demolishing it.
“Think of the message we’re sending to students,” Merschbrock said, in encouraging the board to consider climate change and its impact on future generations.
Jonathan Galbraith, the district’s director of operations, said after the meeting that the School District is asking OPN Architects and Solum Lang Architects to compare renovating Wilson vs. demolishing it. OPN has been leading the district’s facilities master plan process, including the idea to build a new school on the Wilson site.
That study — something the task force had requested during meetings over the past year — could add another seven weeks to the process in determining the language for the bond referendum, which could potentially go before voters in September.
See the full text of Save CR Heritage’s letter to the School Board, below:
Jan. 23, 2023
Dear Board of Education,
As volunteer members of Save CR Heritage, we truly appreciate your service as volunteers and realize the many issues vying for your time. Still, we hope you will turn your attention to one of the most important aspects of our children’s futures. As stated on the district’s website, “the Cedar Rapids Community School District is committed to implementing sustainable practices to protect our environment and reduce our carbon footprint.” Please keep that at the forefront in your decisions.
Save Cedar Rapids Heritage works to preserve our city’s historic resources through education, assistance, advocacy and action, and our members are committed to environmental practices. Reusing existing buildings can help avoid significant environmentally costly new emissions, while also providing opportunities to reduce building operating emissions through energy upgrades. According to a recent Next City article by Patrice Frey and Vincent Martinez, reusing and retrofitting existing buildings can save 50 to 75 percent of the carbon expended to construct a similar building.
As you decide whether or not to demolish the landmark Wilson Middle School, think of the message you’re sending our students. This solid, structurally sound building can be renovated to serve their future educational needs, while also demonstrating that the school district’s commitment to sustainability – and to our children’s future on this planet – is more than just lip service.
Given the dynamics in the state of Iowa concerning school vouchers and within the school district itself with a new superintendent being announced soon, we ask for a re-examination of not only the secondary schools facilities plan, but also the elementary schools plan, which is on-track to send untold tons of demolition debris to our landfill. While it would be nice to know how much of those buildings are recycled, the district is not keeping track of that amount, so perhaps the School Board could request those figures to give voters an actual scope of both plans’ environmental impacts.
Save CR Heritage strongly supports what is best for our students, teachers and staff, which is why we advocate upgrading our schools. Based on the walkable neighborhoods, socioeconomic status of many students and use as community hubs, the facilities master plan task force supported keeping the four historic middle schools and adding one new school, if needed, in northern Cedar Rapids. As you consider what to include in the bond referendum, we urge you to think about the students, their families, and the neighborhoods, as well as the stewardship of our taxpayer dollars, given that a remodel is half the cost of building a new school, and demonstrates your commitment to sustainability.