Cedar Rapids School Board may delay bond vote; fate of Wilson Middle School undecided
By Cindy Hadish/Save CR Heritage
CEDAR RAPIDS, Iowa – The Cedar Rapids Community School District could postpone its $312 million secondary schools bond referendum until next September.
School Board members heard an update on the facilities master plan during its Nov. 14 board meeting, and could still vote in December on the plan, which would need to be decided by then to put the language on the ballot for voters in March 2023. Board members, however, indicated they might need more time to decide on the plan, which includes reducing the number of Cedar Rapids middle schools, but building at least two new schools, along with minor changes to the high schools, and a new aquatic center.
Six members of the public addressed the School Board during the meeting, with five asking that Wilson Middle School not be demolished, and a sixth, with the Cedar Rapids Sunrise Movement, advocating for net-zero carbon emissions and climate-minded decisions.
Under the plan presented to the board, although the building is structurally sound, Wilson, 2301 J St. SW, would be demolished to make way for a new school on the site.
Dennis Andrews, who served as student council president during his time at Wilson, told the board that the 1924-built school was old even when he attended, but the quality of teachers and curriculum matter more than the building and many of his classmates went on to successful careers.
Cedar Rapids Historian Mark Stoffer Hunter asked the board to come up with an alternative to demolition, citing Wilson as one of just seven buildings in the district with a high level of historic integrity. Already, the district has plans to no longer use two of those seven: Arthur Elementary and Garfield Elementary.
Phil Krejci asked why Wilson could not be renovated, as is recommended for Franklin Middle School, built in the same era, and if demolishing the structurally sound school demonstrated good stewardship of taxpayer dollars.
“We have something unique, as far as historic structures in this community,” said Eve Ramsey, who also asked that Wilson not be demolished.
Joanie McMahon, a board member of Save CR Heritage, read a statement from the nonprofit organization, which is advocating for upgrades to Wilson, and a new addition, rather than demolition.
Read the full comments from Save CR Heritage, below:
More than a half-century after its demolition, residents here still lament the loss of Union Station in downtown Cedar Rapids. Once an iconic structure like that is gone – a decision made by a small group of influential people – it cannot be brought back, and the historic fabric of our city further erodes.
Save CR Heritage didn’t exist back in the 1960s to advocate for the landmark Union Station, but we are concerned that another iconic building is at risk. Wilson Middle School represented an equal status for southwest Cedar Rapids when it was built in the 1920s, on par with Franklin in the northeast; McKinley in the southeast and Roosevelt in northwest Cedar Rapids.
Voting to put the demolition of Wilson on the bond referendum sends a signal that the heritage of southwest Cedar Rapids doesn’t rise to the level of the rest of the city. It also is at odds with the sustainable practices the Cedar Rapids School District claims to espouse, to protect our environment and reduce our carbon footprint. Nothing new will recoup the amount of waste sent to the landfill.
Recall that when the 2020 derecho struck Cedar Rapids, those four middle schools stood strong, while newer schools, such as Kennedy, took months to recover. Think of the lesson you’re teaching our students by promoting the demolition of such a well-built structure, just to have something new.
Save CR Heritage strongly supports doing what is best for students, teachers and staff, which is why we advocate upgrading our schools and constructing additions, as is recommended for Franklin. New amenities can be added to these amazing buildings, which help give Cedar Rapids its unique character.
Based on the walkable neighborhoods, socioeconomic status of many students and use as community hubs, the facilities master plan task force supported keeping those four historic middle schools and adding one new school, if needed, in northern Cedar Rapids. The new school would feed into Kennedy; Wilson and Roosevelt would feed into Jefferson; and McKinley and Franklin would feed into Washington High School. That recommendation, favored by a majority of the task force, was ignored.
As you consider what to include in the forthcoming 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 upgrading each of these buildings is half the cost of building a new school. With solid brick walls, long-lasting terrazzo floors and other materials used in these sturdy structures, along with modern upgrades, Wilson would be able to serve generations of students for another century to come.