CEDAR RAPIDS, Iowa – The Cedar Rapids School Board will formally decide in January 2023 its proposal for a $312 million bond issue to address secondary schools, but already, members indicate they support “the plan” that includes the demolition of Wilson Middle School.
School Board President David Tominsky said at the Dec. 12 meeting that the board would shoot for a September 2023 bond referendum, rather than rushing to put the measure before voters in March.
And while several board members said that would provide time to answer questions from the public, they already indicated they support a plan presented this fall that includes the demolition of the historic Wilson Middle School, solely so a new school can be built in its place.
Ironically, Acting Superintendent Art Sathoff touted the district’s “Green Teams” and their sustainability efforts during his Dec. 12 presentation to the School Board.
“That shows up in lots of ways,” Sathoff said, while providing no specifics on what those efforts entail.
The majority of School Board members have stayed silent on the widespread demolitions taking place under the current elementary schools plan and the demolition of Wilson, proposed under the secondary schools plan. The schools are structurally sound, but the neighborhood schools in walkable neighborhoods are being replaced by larger “mega” schools, where more students will need to be bused.
An early estimate showed the demolition of Wilson alone would cost at least $750,000 and send untold tons of demolition materials to the landfill.
Architects directing the Facilities Master Plan update have admitted that Wilson is “built like a tank,” but district leaders have called for its demolition to construct a new building in its current location, to compete with the neighboring College Community School District, and as a matter of “equity.”
Again ironically, a Wilson student who spoke at the School Board meeting revealed the district’s approach to equity, by not hiring a seventh-grade girls basketball coach, leaving out those students who had hoped to play basketball this year.
“I couldn’t wait for seventh-grade basketball,” Evie Creighton, 12, told the board, noting that practice was supposed to have started two weeks ago. “You had since August to find a coach.”
Her mother, Evette Creighton, also addressed the board, citing the inequity of not hiring a coach and what appears to be a direct violation of Title IX, which prohibits sex discrimination in any education program or activity receiving federal financial assistance.
Creighton said Wilson seventh-grade boys were allowed to play football with the eighth graders when a coach wasn’t hired for the seventh grade boys, but no similar solution was offered to the girls for basketball.
“This is an equity issue that is perpetuating the ongoing unfair treatment of girls in our society,” she said. “Enough is enough.”
Two members of the public spoke in favor of the district’s proposal to demolish Wilson, while two spoke in opposition.
Phil Krejci cited the $61 million estimated to demolish Wilson and build a replacement, questioning what the expense will be with cost overruns.
“My concern and my question is why would we spend that kind of money to destroy an architecturally and historically significant, structurally sound building,” he said.
Krejci cited the Wilson principal, who said in one-section classes, the teachers can’t bounce ideas off other teachers, and that Washington would be the only high school without a new feeder school if Wilson isn’t demolished. Franklin Middle School, built in the same 1920s era as Wilson, would be upgraded, with an addition built.
He called both arguments “specious and a red herring.”
Andrew Callahan, who attended Wilson in summers for Czech School in the 1990s, remembers walking through the halls as a student, citing its impressive history, woodwork and terrazzo floors.
Callahan researched the history of school bond issues that led to the construction of McKinley, Roosevelt, Franklin and Wilson junior high schools, with Wilson being the last constructed of the four.
“It was a huge sense of community pride on the southwest side,” he said, citing the Bohemian Community Choir making an appearance when it opened. “Wilson School is an important school; all of our junior high schools are important. It is just a building after all, but it is a very unique building that the community over a hundred years ago took tremendous pride in, and I think the community today should continue to take pride in those facilities.”
School Board member Dexter Merschbrock, who previously noted that southwest Cedar Rapids has no representation on the board, suggested that residents of districts vote to represent them, as happens with other elections, rather than having voters in the entire city choose the at-large and district School Board members.
He cited an immigrant population in southwest Cedar Rapids as an example, where having a smaller population to reach out to during the campaign season could allow more equitable representation on the School Board.
Merschbrock offered the suggestion to allow public input under the district’s consideration of the federal Census update, which the board only considers once every decade. No one on the School Board seconded his motion, and the rest of the board approved the current system, with no public outreach or input.
Unlike the elementary schools facilities plan, which was approved by the School Board without allowing residents to vote, the $312 million bond issue will require voter approval.