Cedar Rapids elementary schools entered on Iowa’s Most Endangered Properties list
Preservation Iowa has announced that Cedar Rapids elementary schools have made the organization’s list of “Most Endangered Properties” for 2022.
Save CR Heritage nominated the elementary schools to the list to raise awareness about the Cedar Rapids School District’s facilities master plan, which will not only affect students, teachers and their families, but change neighborhoods in the entire city.
The Cedar Rapids School Board voted in January 2018 to close eight elementary schools, build 10 new “mega” schools that would each house 600 students and keep three newer schools.
Outside of the three newer Cedar Rapids elementary schools that will be retained, 16 of the remaining schools that have not been demolished or have pending demolitions are all 50 years or older, with the exception of one, which will soon turn 50.
District officials persuaded the School Board to vote to use the 1 percent sales tax stream known as “SAVE,” to be used to demolish older schools and construct new ones, circumventing a vote by residents, many of whom remain unaware of the district’s plan.
The two oldest buildings, Garfield and Arthur, both opened in 1915 and were designed in unique architectural styles. Imposing stone columns loom tall at the entrance of Garfield Elementary, which remains a rare example of Egyptian Revival architecture on a sloping hillside in northeast Cedar Rapids, with hardwood floors and natural woodwork adding a sense of warmth inside. The school is scheduled to be closed, with no plans for its future, putting it at risk of development on its park-like setting.
Just one mile away, Arthur Elementary was built in an uncommon fortress/castle design and retains many original features, including transom windows and oak woodwork that has stood the test of time. Arthur is next on the district’s facilities master plan to be demolished and replaced by a new, larger building.
Harrison, the only elementary school built by the Cedar Rapids School District between 1921 and 1949, opened in 1930 and was constructed after the old Harrison School burned in a fire. With its unique English Tudor and Gothic design by Cedar Rapids architect Harry Hunter, the two-story red brick building is the most architecturally significant of the elementary schools, and includes an interior mural in the foyer, created by artist William Henning, a student of renowned artist Grant Wood. Harrison also is on the list to be demolished and replaced.
Kenwood, Cleveland and Grant Wood were the first new schools built following World War II and all opened by 1951. Cleveland and Grant Wood were designed to be “sister” schools, and Kenwood featured intricate swag ornamental stone reliefs on its exterior. Under the district’s plan, Kenwood and Grant Wood would be closed and Cleveland would be demolished.
Erskine, Wright and Hoover schools opened in 1955. Erskine’s namesake, Dr. Arthur Wright Erskine, was an internationally known x-ray specialist and leader in cancer research. Wright Elementary had an airplane form in its design to further acknowledge the Wright brothers legacy. Orville and Wilbur Wright lived in Cedar Rapids from 1878 to 1881 before they invented, built and flew the world’s first successful airplane. Former President Herbert Hoover attended the groundbreaking of his namesake school in November 1954. Under the facilities master plan, all three schools would be demolished and replaced.
Madison and Truman schools opened in 1961, with Truman featuring unique pagoda-style architectural details. Under the plan, both schools would be closed, but district officials recently announced that Truman would be repurposed as an early childhood center. Other closures have no guarantee that the buildings would be repurposed.
Pierce, built in 1965, would be demolished and replaced under the facilities master plan.
Van Buren, Nixon and Johnson all opened in 1970, with Van Buren and Nixon constructed in the same architectural design, exhibiting historic architectural value for the eras in which they were built. Both would be closed under the plan, while Johnson would be demolished and replaced.
Opened in 1973, Taylor Elementary is the newest school in the district that would not be retained. The school made a historic comeback after the unprecedented 2008 flood in Cedar Rapids, but is set to be closed under the school district’s plan.
All of the buildings are currently structurally sound and in good condition. The schools listed for demolition and replacement are in imminent danger, while those listed for closing also could be lost, as none are guaranteed to be repurposed, but could potentially be purchased for the land and demolished.
* Much of the background on the schools was provided by Cedar Rapids Historian Mark Stoffer Hunter.
The School Board could still change the plan if they choose. Individual board members or the entire Board of Education can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org
Preservation Iowa’s Most Endangered Properties program started in 1995 to draw attention to the special buildings and historic sites that are gradually slipping away in the state. Sites highlighted are all in danger of demolition or deterioration.
Others on the 2022 list include: Lacey School/Pike Grange Hall, Nichols, Muscatine County; Dunsmore House, Waterloo, Black Hawk County; Des Moines Birthplace Wall Mural, Polk County; First National Bank Building, Ottumwa, Wapello County; Former Marion Methodist Church, Marion, Linn County; and Homer Seerley Home, UNI Campus, Cedar Falls, Black Hawk County.
Find more information and photos of all of the 2022 Most Endangered Properties on Preservation Iowa’s Facebook page.