Cost estimates increase for first two new Cedar Rapids schools by $10 million
By Cindy Hadish/Save CR Heritage
CEDAR RAPIDS — Even before the first scoop of dirt has been shoveled, the estimated price tag for the Cedar Rapids Community School District’s facilities master plan has skyrocketed.
The 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. By indicating their intent to use the 1 percent sales tax stream known as “SAVE,” the board circumvented a vote by the public on the measure, normally required in projects of even lesser magnitude.
At the May 13 Board of Education meeting, David Nicholson, Executive Director of Business Services for the district, told the board that the cost for the new schools, previously estimated at $20 million each, had increased to $25 million each, just for the first two schools: Coolidge and Jackson.
Under that scenario, the annual estimated cost savings of $2.9 million touted by the School Board would be significantly negated by the increase for each of the 10 new schools over the course of the 15- to 20-year plan.
None of the School Board members questioned or reacted to the $10 million cost increase.
Superintendent Brad Buck, who will soon depart Cedar Rapids for the Waukee School District, said plans for Cedar Rapids middle schools also will need to be examined. He also noted that the sales tax isn’t the only funding option, indicating that eventually, another source could come from taxes paid by property owners.
School Board member John Laverty added that the district owns 40 acres of land on the Highway 100 bypass where new schools could be built. The plan adopted by the board in 2018 calls for demolishing schools and rebuilding on the same site, in addition to closing neighborhood schools.
The first phase of the facilities master plan can begin even before Governor Kim Reynolds signs a bill into law that extends the SAVE (Secure an Advanced Vision for Education) sales tax funding on which the plan’s funding is based, Nicholson said.
He added that the School Board could choose to call a special election as early as this September to adopt a new revenue purpose statement, required before the district can borrow money under the new SAVE funding stream.
Save CR Heritage hosted a community forum to discuss the master plan before the school board vote. Read about what happened at the forum.
The closures will remove walkable neighborhood schools in favor of larger schools to which young kindergarten through fifth grade students will need to be bused. No funding for busing was included in the initial $224 million proposal for the master plan, which was touted for its cost-savings over time.
A committee, which included members with ties to the school district and construction industry, met for 18 months to ultimately agree with a hired consultant’s plan for the district. The committee had no minority representation by the end of the process.
No option for renovating existing schools was offered under the plan’s initial choices, though three newer schools will be retained. Despite outcry from community members leading up to the January 2018 decision, the School Board voted unanimously in favor of the plan.
After Monday night’s meeting, Nicholson cited inflation and President Trump’s tariffs on materials such as aluminum and steel among the factors in the cost increase.
Under the plan, these schools will be closed:
• Garfield, 1201 Maplewood Drive NE
• Grant Wood, 645 26th St. SE
• Kenwood Leadership Academy, 3700 E Ave. NE
• Madison, 1341 Woodside Drive NW
• Nixon, 200 Nixon Drive, Hiawatha
• Taylor, 720 Seventh Ave. SW
• Truman, 441 West Post Road. NW
• Van Buren, 2525 29th St. SW
These schools will be demolished, and replaced by larger 600-student schools, except for Johnson, which would have a smaller student capacity. Harrison’s unique architecture “will be taken into account,” but what that entails was unclear in the language of the resolution.
Maybe its time to start over and get the school board’s attention to the waste that the soon to be ex-superindent thought it was going to be best plan ever and cost saving. School board needs the public help. they shouldn’t do anything without them.
My biggest question concerning closing neighborhood schools and substituting large schools the size of malls is, Why? In my 40 years of teaching, I never equated a large school with quality of instruction. in fact, creating a large school with a hierarchical administration separates and insulates the staff and students. The philosophy behind this shift seems warped and researched poorly.
Thank you for your message, Scott. The consultants found something to back up the idea for larger schools, but it mostly seemed to have a monetary basis underlying it. Of course, there is research that smaller schools are preferable, too. If you’re in this area, please speak up at a School Board meeting.