Cedar Rapids School District would demolish iconic Wilson Middle School under $312 million taxpayer proposal
Note: Anyone wishing to address the School Board at the Nov. 14, 2022, meeting should arrive a few minutes before the 5:30 p.m. start time to sign in as a speaker. Meetings are heldat the Educational Leadership & Support Center, 2500 Edgewood Rd. NW. School board members can be reached by email at: firstname.lastname@example.org
By Cindy Hadish/Save CR Heritage
CEDAR RAPIDS, Iowa – Wilson Middle School – described as both “beautiful” and “built like a tank” – will be demolished under plans proposed by the Cedar Rapids Community School District.
The Nov. 14, 2022, School Board agenda includes $60.8 million for a new school at the Wilson site as part of the district’s $312 million bond referendum proposal.
In August, district officials told the board the plan could call for Wilson, 2301 J St. SW, to be renovated, with an addition built for a capacity of up to 600 students. That notion was carried into subsequent public input sessions. “We really tried to think about this balance of renovation, honoring the historic, beautiful buildings that we have, as well as new in our system,” Superintendent Noreen Bush said of the proposal, before her death less than three weeks ago of cancer.
Whether intentional or not, the agenda item for the plan does not include the estimated $750,000 cost of demolishing Wilson, which is in solid condition and was described by the architectural firm leading the planning process as “built like a tank.”
The firm, which received the contracts for the first new elementary schools built under the school district’s elementary facilities plan, noted that the 1924-built Wilson, along with Franklin, Roosevelt and McKinley, constructed in the same era, withstood Iowa’s 2020 hurricane-strength derecho windstorm, while newer schools, such as Kennedy, did not fare as well.
All four middle schools were designed in the Gothic Revival style of architecture of the 1920s and all were doubled in size with 1934-35 additions in preparation to be six-year high schools from 1935-1957, according to Cedar Rapids Historian Mark Stoffer Hunter.
Members of the firm also described Wilson as “beautiful,” but are proposing the new school for southwest Cedar Rapids in the hopes of enticing parents to keep their children in the Cedar Rapids district, rather than open-enrolling to the nearby College Community School District, which has newer school buildings.
The firm presented no evidence that new buildings are the reason parents choose to open-enroll their children outside of the district.
Schools like Wilson were constructed with solid brick walls, terrazzo floors and other materials designed to last for centuries, compared to the cheaper materials with a shorter life span used in current construction.
The secondary schools plan also includes a new $88.8 million, 1,200-student middle school to be built at an undetermined site. Land acquisition of $2.2 million would bring the cost of that new middle school to more than $90 million.
Members of the Facilities Master Plan Task Force, which dwindled from 70 members to 10 in attendance over the past year, were ostensibly charged with reducing the number of middle schools from six to four, but the district recently included the repurposing of McKinley Middle School for a new magnet high school in its plans. McKinley would be closed for use as a middle school, thus leaving a large population of students who walk to school to face being bused.
With the new 1,200-student school and by retaining McKinley – though it would be used for its uniquely named City View High School – the district would still have five middle school buildings.
Franklin Middle School would remain in use, with $30 million in upgrades, while Roosevelt Middle School would be phased out over time and Harding would be closed.
Taft Middle School would receive $16.6 million in renovations to begin with, but eventually a new building is planned for the Taft site, with a future “ask” of taxpayers to pay for the new school.
Metro High School is set to receive $779,000 in gym updates under the proposal, but the plan also cites Metro under the plan to repurpose McKinley, for which no funding is allocated.
A sizable amount of the plan, which has been promoted as meeting the future educational needs of students, would go to a new aquatic center to be built at an undetermined location. Pools at the three high schools would be closed under the proposal.
Task force members who questioned whether or not the city of Cedar Rapids and perhaps Linn County could be involved in funding and use of the nearly $20 million aquatic center were not fully addressed.
The plan also calls for middle school track and field upgrades at five sites for $4.3 million; new high school activity areas for $3.2 million and new turf fields at the three high schools – Jefferson, Kennedy and Washington – for nearly $8 million. Kennedy’s cafeteria and kitchen also would be renovated for $2.3 million.
Monday’s school board meeting is the next step in putting the $312 million plan before voters in March 2023.
Unlike the elementary schools plan, which uses a different funding stream and was solely decided by the school board, voters will have a say in whether or not the secondary schools proposal will be funded through an increase in property taxes.
Journalist Cindy Hadish is a board member of Save CR Heritage and has served the past year on the school district’s facilities master plan task force.
It’s a debacle to demolish Wilson Middle School. I’m unclear on what fate is proposed for gorgeous Harrison. Is there any type of legal action that can be taken? Like maybe an injunction? I haven’t seen the wording of the related bond proposal. I understand its passage would somehow finalize the destruction of Wilson. Will the wording of the bond proposal set out that fact clearly to school district voters?
The complexity and myriad parts of the whole plan make it unfairly difficult for ordinary citizens to get a clear picture of all its consequences.
What kind of organized protest and/or effort to lobby school board members is underway? Or is the district plan all locked in? Please advise.