First of many Cedar Rapids schools approved for demolition
By Cindy Hadish/Save CR Heritage
The Cedar Rapids Historic Preservation Commission approved the demolition application for Coolidge Elementary School at its meeting last week, paving the way for a series of schools to be replaced throughout the city.
With little discussion, the commission unanimously voted May 13, 2021, to release the demolition permit for the 1967-built school, at 6225 First Ave. SW.
The demolition will be the first in the Cedar Rapids School District’s facilities master plan. Under that plan — approved only by the School Board, rather than district residents as is the case with most major undertakings — all of the district’s historic elementary schools will be demolished or closed.
School district officials had argued, among other points, that the new buildings would be wheelchair accessible. Ironically, Coolidge, the first school to go, was built to be accessible.
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.
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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 much smaller magnitude.
Even before the first scoop of dirt was shoveled, the estimated price tag for the plan had skyrocketed.
Previously estimated at $20 million each, the board was told in 2019 that amount 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.
Cedar Rapids Historian Mark Stoffer Hunter plans to take interior and exterior photos of Coolidge before it closes and is making arrangements to save the 1967 metal dedication plaque, likely at The History Center, and the “Calvin Coolidge” stone in front of the building.
Stoffer Hunter said he would like to see the stone stay on the school campus, even though the replacement building will not be called Coolidge. The new name will be the memorable West Willow.
The new building has been under construction this school year where the school’s baseball diamonds had been. Jackson Elementary will be the next school up for demolition.
Stoffer Hunter said this is the first time a Cedar Rapids school or former school building will be demolished that was built after 1915. Until now, the newest Cedar Rapids school structures ever demolished were the 1915 Hayes School (demolished in 1982) and before that, the 1910 original Johnson School, demolished in 1971.
He also noted the following:
Cedar Rapids School District built 30 new school structures between 1948 and 1974 and the Coolidge structure is one of the newest at 54 years old.
This signifies the retirement of another president’s name for a school. It was the only Cedar Rapids school ever named after Calvin Coolidge.
Other president names retired:
Adams (1961 Adams now used as Isaac Newton Academy)
Monroe (1961 Monroe restored on Pioneer Avenue SE)
Tyler (Renamed Metro High School)
Fillmore (1961 Fillmore now Linn County facility on E Avenue and 11th Street NW)
Buchanan (1920 Buchanan is the former Ambroz Recreation Center at 2000 Mount Vernon Road SE)
Lincoln (1910 Lincoln School is now the Sanctuary Church)
Hayes (only the 1950’s addition survives as Four Oaks facility)
Eisenhower (1961 Eisenhower is now Faith Bible Church on 46th Street NE)
The School Board had promised a “pause” between the first new schools and demolitions, but little has been clarified as to what that will entail.
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 600-student “mega” 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.
Sad to see my grade school Harrison on the list to be demolished — went there in the 40’s/50’s SAD
Agreed, JoAnne! We’re not ready to give up on Harrison!
Yes, I’m sad to hear about Harrison. Can we do a petition to keep it? So many memories and many students who went there. My dad went there.
We’re definitely looking at something like that, Linda. We’ll keep everyone posted on the Save CR Heritage Facebook page.
That is sad to hear. My dad had a lot of input into building that school. He was Coolidge’s first principal. He was so proud of the building and the teachers that taught there. New ideas at that time such as team teaching. I believe he may have designed the stone in front. I remember him drawing people on pieces of paper exactly like that before the school was built and may have come up with that. I have a lot of fond memories of Coolidge. I appreciate Mark Stoffer Hunter taking photos for those who have had fond memories of the building and can look back at this and reminisce.
Jim, perhaps you can reach out to Mark Stoffer Hunter to share more of what you remember about your dad’s role in the school, as well as your own memories. Those are definitely worth preserving!
Sad to see Madison being closed. I went from 3rd to 6th grade there. I was a proud winner for Madison in winning the field goal shooting contest in 1965.
Thanks for sharing that memory! Certainly, many of those will be lost when all of these buildings are gone.
I didnt read in the article if there are more tours of the schools scheduled. Does anyone know? I just moved back to Cedar Rapids last month after 42 years and since i went to many of these schools due to 27 family moves, I would love to get a last look.
Janet, we don’t have any school tours scheduled at this time, but will look into that in the future.